People, Performance & Profits

People, Performance & Profits

Fifteen qualities of outstanding general managers

“Talented people take patience to find. They select you; you don’t select them. That means you have to have a total commitment to a quality work environment, not just competitive pay and benefits.” 

— Larry Altier 

I speak at a lot of GM conferences for foodservice and retail brands around the globe. And there’s one question you hear repeatedly: “What do outstanding GMs consistently do that the average ones do not?” 

Over the years, I’ve noted the key characteristics that CEOs cite when describing their top-performing GMs at these conferences. Here’s a list for you to consider. How do your GMs stack up? 

They are servant leaders. The best GMs intrinsically know that if you’re not serving the customer directly, you need to be serving someone who is. Nobody wins unless everybody wins. Treat teams with respect, recognition and direction. Outstanding GMs know that how their people feel ends up on the plate, in the bag or in the drink. 

They exhibit informed intuition. Exceptional GMs know through experience and training that if “A” occurs, then “B” is likely to happen. Informed intuition is a skill born from a combination of cumulative experience, reflection and training. High-performing GMs learn to listen to their inner voice and gut when facing new or stressful situations. They know that when things go wrong, they needn’t go with them. 

They are adept at social media. Along with food safety, team building and coaching, today’s GM must be well-versed in the nuances and opportunities inherent in Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Yelp and whatever else the social media darling du jour may be. 

Their knowledge is steeped in the fundamentals. Great GMs are brilliant at the basics. Examine successful foodservice companies, and you’ll learn that leadership success is more often the result of consistent common sense than genius. They’ve learned that the little things really are the big things. 

They are innovative. The best GMs constantly consider ways to improve systems, service, menus, people, policies and procedure. They do it by 1) challenging the process, 2) monitoring the competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, and 3) soliciting feedback daily from crew and customers. This input keeps them forward focused while making the present profitable.

They are thoughtfully unreasonable. Effective GMs are “thoughtfully unreasonable” from time to time with their junior managers. They know that setting goals beyond their managers’ personal comfort zone builds extra capacity and better performance. Their capacity for achieving bigger goals will then grow proportionately, just like exercising to build muscles.

They are supportive. When junior managers falter or fail, great GMs stay steadfast in their support during temporary setbacks. It’s OK to make mistakes, as long as you don’t make the same ones again. How many of us owe our current success to someone who believed in us when we didn’t believe in ourselves? 

They are committed to win. Willingness is as important as ability. If you’re a quitter, you stop thinking. If you’re not a quitter, you begin to think faster. Thinking faster puts you in front of the team, where leaders need to be. 

They constantly improve hiring and development. Exceptional GMs challenge and improve the process by asking, “What is it that the people we’re hiring can’t do that I wish they could do?” Sharing this insight with other managers and HR makes for “stronger, better, faster” teams and brands.

They are disciplined. Great GMs are tough on standards and fair with their people. They don’t compromise brand standards, company policies, personal integrity or customer service. They get it done, because successful people do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.

They are accountable for results.  Aligning your teams and brand’s culture to be results-driven is paramount to success. “Strategy gets you on the playing field,” said author Gordon Eubanks, “but execution pays the bills.”  Leaders are measured not by what they attempted, but what they accomplished. You don’t “think” yourself into a new way of acting; you act yourself into a new way of thinking.  

They know the difference between training and mentoring. Training means putting faith in the process, mentoring is putting faith in the person. Great GMs do both, and often. And they start by teaching both crew and assistant managers to be entrepreneurs, not employees. Ultimately, the best GMs build their own replacements. Coaching bridges the gap between management and leadership. 

They are change masters. Outstanding GMs steer the brand between today’s reality and what’s on the industry horizon tomorrow. They can distinguish between fads and trends.

They inspire a shared vision. The average GM explains complexity; the gifted GM reveals simplicity.

They make money. If you’re loaded with passion, potential, charisma and competencies, but you’re still unable to meet the core organizational need of generating profit, then you’re not a great GM. Unfortunately, not even a good one.

Great GMs have more tricks than Houdini, more brains than IBM’s Watson and more moves than U-Haul. They’re creatures born of nature, nurture and venture. And without them, this industry would grind to a halt. So if you’re making money, thank a GM today, won’t you?

Jim Sullivan is chief executive of [3]. You can follow him on Twitter @Sullivision [4] and get his newest book, “Fundamentals,” at [5].