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Pruning the dead weight from your teams raises standards, gives high performers room to shine

Pruning the dead weight from your teams raises standards, gives high performers room to shine

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”—Jim Collins, author, “Good to Great”

In our role as unit managers and hospitality providers we are encouraged to create and foster a culture of kindness among crew and customers. But that’s presuming we have a team of high performers worthy of respect, development and kindness.

Unfortunately, we don’t see conflict resolution or firing low performers as being “kind,” although it is. Freud taught us that people will do more to avoid pain than gain pleasure, and so restaurant managers and multiunit managers choose the path of least resistance when it comes to addressing performance issues: delay or inaction. As a result, the wrong people stay on the team too long, driving away the right people too often and driving down your profits too quickly. Soon both brand standards and customer counts slip, and now you have a “team” committed to mediocrity on the best days and apathy on the worst. Expectations then get lowered when hiring new crew members, and a vicious cycle begins.

In these tough times the one sure thing you can do to ensure a successful future is to develop your stars and trim the dead weight among your crew and manager ranks.

“Restaurant managers underestimate the importance of pruning low performers in order to build a high-performing team,” says Larry Flax, chief executive and co-founder of the California Pizza Kitchen chain. “A GM and their junior managers must invest in developing their crew daily and also frankly assess who on their team is either unable or unwilling to perform up to or beyond brand standards and guest expectations. They must overcome the ‘fear of firing’ if they hope to improve their people, performance and profits in the near-and-long term.

“Managers tend to avoid terminating low performers because of either underdeveloped leadership skills or an underlying fear of wrongful-termination lawsuits. But if the person in question is clearly performing below standards despite guidance and coaching, or if they willfully violate established policies or procedures, the managers owe it to the team, the company and themselves to stop avoiding conflict and prune the dead wood.”

Author Tom Peters concurs when he writes: “Give a lot, expect a lot, and if you don’t get it, prune.”

The truth is that some turnover—of the people who aren’t contributing—is good. But low performers, once surrounded by other low performers, are loathe to leave. People like to work for people who like them and are like them, so if you notice some of your units are heavily weighted with “falling stars,” take a keen look first at the management team. Recognize that some low performers are actually high performers in disguise but will only perform up to the manager’s expectations.

I’ve long maintained that it isn’t the people you fire that make your life miserable, it’s the people you don’t fire. HR executives must train and empower unit managers to understand their rights and responsibilities, take charge of their talent pool, and enforce brand standards relative to tenure and turnover. How can you or your managers realistically tolerate and retain low performers given all that they can do to negatively impact your brand?

Here are two lists that summarize the upside and downside of keeping or pruning the dead wood:

Keeping low performers:

Means positions are full and you don’t have to place a want ad

Increases theft

Lowers productivity

Wastes a manager’s time on daily disciplinary issues, reports and discussions that could be better spent building business

Sends a terrible message to everyone else: You can under-perform consistently and complain regularly and we still have a place for you—a place right alongside our most valued employees and even a place interacting with our most valuable appreciating asset, our customers

Terminating low performers:

Means brand standards, values and character are upheld

Keeps high performers longer (and recruits their friends)

Puts other low performers on notice.

Typically raises the game of average performers

Makes the crew more focused

Gives customers better service

Helps managers work and sleep better

Means managers may have to cover a shift until a better person is hired

Raises productivity and profitability

Logically, which choice makes the most sense? Ever see a great team in a bad store? Unhire the people who make your job harder, your team mediocre and your customers disappointed.

People are your brand. We’re not in the food and beverage business serving people; we’re in the people business serving food and beverage. Now is the time for your company’s executive, operations, HR and training departments to sit down and have a serious heart-to-heart about adding “superstar teams” to your standards, values and mission. That addition likely may begin with subtraction.

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