Who is more important? Your boss or your guest?

I’ll admit that I got up on my soap box today.  But I think it was for a good reason.

When teaching a class, I work very hard to stay neutral so that the students can form their own opinions.  Of course I guide and facilitate the discussion, but ultimately the decision on how to act has to come from them.  On this day, the topic of “sprucing up when the boss comes around” came up, and I abandoned my neutrality.

I am of the opinion that we should NOT act differently when the boss comes around.  Meaning that we should not go crazy making everything and everyone look perfect for the short time the head-honcho decides to stop by.  I realize, though, that everyone does not share this opinion.

Call it self-preservation or job security, but I have seen this phenomenon occur at every company I have worked for.  Sometimes you know when the boss is coming, and the few weeks leading up to the visit are a whirlwind of activity that should have been taking place anyway.  Or worse, when there is a surprise attack and all of the sudden the boss is on your turf.  Then the covert operation begins… “quick, he’s coming your way… hide the junk and tuck in your shirt!”  If this were a movie or a sit-com, you would see the closet door hiding trash and unkempt employees closing tightly just as the boss turns the corner.  Utopia.

One the one hand, there are two glaring problems with this mode of thought and action:

  1. You are sending a mixed (or at the very least inaccurate) message to your team members.  You are telling that the ONLY time we need to be giving a 100% is when this one certain person stops by.  What about the thousands of guests you serve everyday?  After all, they are the ones paying your salary – don’t they deserve 100% of your effort?
  2. You are painting an unrealistic view of your operation for your boss.  If you have ever asked for additional resources (money, people, materials), your boss will likely think back to the last time they visited (if they are not on property full time).  Unfortunately for you, your team did such a great job creating temporary perfection during his last visit that he might think you are doing just fine.  “Why would you need any more money? Things looked great when I was there last.”  Oops.

There is however, a sliver lining to this.  I would not say this is a reason or justification for behaving this way, but this does give us some insight into what makes people work together as a team.

When I have experienced these situations before, the feeling of teamwork was palpable.  So much so that I made, and heard, comments like, “wow, it would be great if we could work together this well all the time.”  Well guess what?  You can.

Here is what I have learned about teamwork from these situations:

  1. Teams need goals.  Short term and/or long term – a specific achievable goal is essential.
  2. We must continually talk about the goal.  Keep it top of mind, remind people why we are doing this.
  3. People need a reason to reach for the goal.  They will be asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”
  4. Everyone needs to be on the same page – no dissension is tolerated – you are either part of the solution or part of the problem.
  5. People need constant reminders and encouragement  regarding how they are doing and how they are progressing toward the goal.

Let me end by saying this: I don’t think there is anything wrong with pleasing your boss.  I do think there is an issue when pleasing him/her takes priority over your guests.  Without your guests, neither you nor your boss will have a job.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Thanks for reading!

Not the answer we were expecting

I could see it in her eyes… my wife wanted to ask a question. The majority of our conversation since sitting down with our burgers and fries from Five Guys had been their consistent level of service and product, especially with a young workforce. On this day, she counted 13 employees behind the counter – at the grill, at the fry station, taking orders, filling orders, and delivering orders. Each one had a job to do, and they all did it. Linda wanted to find out why.

If you’ve read any books on workplace performance or employee motivation, you would probably conclude from this scene that all the employees were really happy and that if you were going to try to emulate this in your business, you would start with making everyone happy. That’s certainly a tactic I’ve written about, which is what made the answer to my wife’s question so surprising.

She asked an employee who was sweeping the dining room floor if he liked his job. (By the way, he was doing his job well.) He said, “No.”

What? No is his answer? How can this be??

Turns out this guy used to install granite counter tops. His story is similar to many others… business dried up and he took a job to pay the bills. Even so, he is doing it well enough to make his customers feel like he wants to be there.

Certainly he is internally motivated to survive and make a living, but something about the Five Guys culture is not allowing him to slack off and do the absolute minimum just to get by.

I’m not sure what that is, but I would imagine it has to do with treating employees like people and enforcing consistent expectations. We often hear about an employee that “is only there for the paycheck”, or “has been that way forever, they will never change”. I’m sure we’ve all dealt with people like this, and a trend that I’ve seen is to allow them to get away with mediocre behavior because they aren’t motivated. I could be wrong, but I would guess that your policies don’t contain one set of standards for people who are motivated and one set for people who aren’t. Yet, they may be getting enforced that way.

I imagine a conversation going like this, “Tim, I understand that this is not your dream job, and that when the economy comes back you will probably leave us. In the meantime, you’ve made the choice to be here and I appreciate that. While you are here, I am going to ask that you give us 100% effort, and I will promise to support you and make sure you have everything you need to do your job. Please keep me posted on the counter top business, and if we need to adjust the schedule here and there to help you get that going again, please let me know.”

Did you hear that?  Setting expectations for 100% effort, setting the stage for help and support, and oh, by the way… showing genuine concern for the employee as a human being! What a concept!

Like I said, I have no idea if this took place or not, but it would seem to me that something has to be going right for someone who doesn’t really like his job to be doing it well.

If anyone from Five Guys is reading this and wants to share how you do it, we’re all ears!

Thanks for reading!