Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at leadership, franchisee and GM conferences worldwide. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.
“Meetings and conferences are important because they demonstrate how many managers a company can operate without.”—Dilbert creator Scott Adams
As any employee (or spouse) will tell you, the No. 1 challenge when two or more people work together is communication. The No. 2 challenge is accountability. And since a good deal of a restaurant leader’s time is spent in meetings with team members (and vendors), perhaps the best place way to improve communication and accountability is by learning how to plan and execute more effective employee meetings.
A restaurant leader’s work life is chockablock-full of meetings. You probably just spent the last 60 days in planning, budgetary and performance appraisal meetings. Restaurant GMs meet with their fellow managers and Area Directors weekly or monthly, and then there’s the all-important but routinely overlooked daily Pre-Shift Meetings with your hourly associates. Since we spend so much time in meetings, I thought it may be helpful to share some industry best practices for getting the most out of them.
1. Consider the ROI first. Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you can't get more time. And the weekly/monthly manager meeting is one of the more commonly overlooked controllable expenses a restaurant has. Consider the collective salary/wage cost of each person at the meeting, along with the expense of what's not getting done while you’re meeting. If you had to write a personal check for your next meeting, would you still have it, or would you plan it or run it any differently? Begin manager meetings by saying something like, “Today’s meeting will collectively cost our company approximately $715 in salary in the next hour, so let’s make this investment and meeting worthwhile.”
2. Begin and end on time. A big reason why most people dislike meetings is because they're often poorly planned and executed. Here are four ideas for improvement: 1) If you have an hour meeting, schedule it for 63 minutes instead. Start and end at odd times, say from 3:06 pm to 4:09 pm. 2) Start by summarizing what’s been accomplished since the last meeting. 3) Schedule smaller agenda items first so there's a collective sense of progress to kick the meeting off. 4) Assign any off-topic ideas to a “Parking Lot” agenda for future discussion.
3. Leave an extra chair open at every sit-down meeting. Even though they aren’t present, every meeting should include a ceremonial place for customers at the table to remind us how every decision should relate to making their experience with your brand better. Amazon employee meetings have employed this visual touchstone for nearly two decades.
4. Have a plan and stick to it. Ambiguity is the source of most conflict between managers and teams in the workplace. Strong meetings foster clarity. Planning is paramount, whether it's a routine weekly meeting with your fellow managers or a company-wide annual conference in another state. Commence each meeting with three stated objectives that relate specifically to the quarterly goals or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) you’re focusing on. Share the agenda, objectives and expectations with participants ahead of time.
5. Skinny the monologue, fatten the dialogue. Effective meetings are both productive and developmental. Attendees should leave feeling: "That was worthwhile and I know more now than I did before the meeting." Structure each meeting to simultaneously inform and teach, and build discussion into each decision topic. The meeting leader should not dominate the discussion, otherwise you're more effective sending an email.
6. Get the Big Rocks in place. Review written notes from the last meeting. Discuss progress on Key Result Areas (KRAs) like food costs, labor costs, service, same-store sales, cleanliness, staffing and marketing since the last meeting. Discuss ways to improve each area, as well as the pros and cons of each potential course of action. Then decide and assign target dates for every new initiative. Eliminate paralysis by over-analysis. And remember: not to decide is to decide.
7. Bring and share two best practices each. The foodservice industry is a free university if you pay attention. Ask every manager to write down and share two things they learned at work since the last meeting. Compile their insights in a Key Learnings list and update it every meeting. You'll be amazed at what great insight you'll accumulate over the next 12 months. Share the lists with your new managers and post it on your company intranet. None of us is a smart as all of us.
8. Determine and assign pre-shift meeting topics. One of the most important things you can do in a manager meeting is to identify what you'll collectively focus on as a team between now and the next meeting. And the best way to do that is to agree upon and assign a specific topic to every pre-shift meeting over the next two weeks. Align the pre-shift topic to the KRAs you're focusing on. If managers don't give their hourly teams specific goals each day, they'll presume you don't have any, and then they’ll substitute their own. For a free downloadable template for planning and executing daily pre-shift meetings, visit Sullivision.com.
9. Pursue the bright spots. Too much leadership time is devoted solely to fixing problems when just as much progress can be achieved by identifying outstanding performers and figuring out how to replicate their performance. Don't just talk about what to fix. Discuss how to scale and replicate the innovation that team members demonstrate.
10. End the meeting with accountability. "Improve the impact of your weekly meetings by taking a few minutes at the end to summarize Who said they are going to do What, and by When,” says Verne Harnish, author of Scaling Up, who refers to this as the three W’s. “This isn’t about micromanagement; it’s about excellent management and being clear in both communication and accountability. The key is setting a ‘when’ that is no longer than the time between meetings. And if you have a more substantial initiative, break it into pieces that can be accomplished within a few weeks." Apple lists a DRI, or Directly Responsible Individual, beside all items on a meeting agenda in order to identify who does what after the meeting concludes. Follow up on all agreed-upon actions.
11. Always end with energy and positivity. Thank people for their contributions. Keep the meeting upbeat throughout. Summarize key items. If you have exceptional news to share, the end is usually the best place to do it, not the beginning.
Meetings are like elevators. They can lift you up or bring you down. Planning, purpose and productivity are the key elements of the kind of meetings that maximize efficiency and value. These are the kind of meetings we anticipate instead of dread.
Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote and workshop speaker at restaurant leadership conferences worldwide. The revised, updated and expanded fourth edition of his bestselling book, “Multiunit Leadership,” is available at Amazon.com and Sullivision.com. You can follow him on LinkedIn, YouTube or Twitter @Sullivision.