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Nine signs of leadership imbalance at the unit level

Nine signs of leadership imbalance at the unit level

We design and deliver multiunit leadership development workshops for the top 100 foodservice companies around the globe. In these interactive programs with area managers and multiunit franchisees, we share fresh research, best practices and common stumbling blocks related to 21st century leadership.

One skill that multiunit managers, or MUMs, routinely identify as the most challenging is how to properly assess and improve the leadership of unit managers. An imbalance of leadership at the unit level affects all aspects of a brand because the store is where the company meets the customer.

So how do above-restaurant leaders effectively evaluate unit leadership levels and then prioritize the development necessary to improve them? Here’s a checklist of unit-level symptoms to watch for. If these sound familiar, it’s likely there’s also imbalance in that unit’s leadership:

Managers are supervising processes instead of people. This behavior is viewed as normal by accountants and the consultants who sell the processes. But we are not in the food and beverage industry serving people; we are in the people business serving food and beverage. Processes should be supporting people development, and not vice versa.

New employees are put in the toughest positions. This is what we call orientation: New crew members are handed a packet, given a lukewarm greeting by the manager-on-duty and then ushered to a backroom seat in front of a combo TV/DVD player near the cleaning bucket to watch an hour-long video. Nice. Then they’re often thrown into a tough position during a busy meal period, overwhelming them. Our industry needs a thorough overhaul of the new employee orientation or “onboarding” process. Always begin with cultural assimilation or “why” before you pile on the “what” and “how.” Don’t allow managers to throw newbies into roles they haven’t been acclimated to. Why? Because they end up practicing on the customer.

Promote-able candidates are not being properly developed. GMs are hired by the people they report to but fired by the people who report to them. It is not enough to identify your high performers, you must simultaneously make them better at what they do. When unit managers are poor supervisors they miss opportunities to define and develop the next generation of leaders. How effective are your GMs at training their junior managers to teach, lead and coach the hourly team? Do they craft quarterly development plans for each manager and highpotential hourly team member?

Performance suffers on the GM’s day off. The sign of a good GM is that the restaurant runs best when they’re working. But the sign of a great general manager is how well the store operates when he or she is not there. Standards and performance should not vary markedly from shift to shift.

Turnover, not tenure, is measured. It’s more important to know how long hourly crew-members stay in each position, in other words their tenure, than what percentage left last year, or their turnover. What does “50 percent annual turnover” really tell us? Value tenure over turnover as a measuring stick. Once you know exactly when each position tends to be voluntarily vacated, you can then initiate new training or incentives several months before the average jumping-off date. This helps you extend employees’ tenure and engagement, which reduces hiring, training and replacement costs.

Everything’s a priority; there’s never enough “time.” Time management is the foundation of high-performing unit managers. No matter how well you know what you need to do, you must first have the time to do it. And know how to prioritize it.

We’re not sure how customers see us. Most service initiatives fail because we’re either habitually inconsistent or everyone’s focused on the wrong things. Get both your managers and customer-facing crew to make a list of the customer’s top five expectations and top five complaints. Compare each list. If they’re not aligned, agree who’s right and re-align them.

There’s no pre-shift goal-setting or communication. A sure sign of imbalance in a restaurant’s leadership team is an absence of pre-shift communication between managers and staff. If you don’t give your team members a plan before each shift, they will presume you don’t have a plan. This is not what you want. Download a free pre-shift meeting planning template at and use it to focus your team daily with smart and measurable goals.

Previously effective systems and processes are less effective. Weak leadership makes strong systems ineffective. Don’t manage your business in “safe” mode and wait for things to get back to “normal.” The restaurant business is not getting back to “normal.” Accept it. And if you find yourself operating in a reactive culture that is now exclusively numbers-driven, re-visit this list’s first sign of ineffective unit-level leadership.

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