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7 strategies to finish strong in 2016

7 strategies to finish strong in 2016

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. His newest book Fundamentals is available at Amazon or Check out his leadership video series at This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Jim Sullivan chief executive Jim Sullivan
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Most foodservice companies set goals and measure progress the same way we live our lives: by the 12 months in a calendar year — Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. And in case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s nearly July, and half the year is gone. 

Like most of us, your company began 2016 with detailed goals designed to improve your people, performance and profits over last year. Guess what? There are only six months left to hit those targets. So let’s assess our progress and, most importantly, detail the steps necessary now to make the most out of the six months remaining. Analyze the past, but plan for the future. 

Here are seven strategies to make sure that Dec. 31 arrives with the satisfaction of targets hit and jobs well done, and not the disappointment of priorities dimmed and opportunities squandered.  

1. Start dividing by six. Whatever goals you set on Jan. 1, now is the time to divide them incrementally into the remaining months. Let’s say you had a target of growing 2016 sales 20 percent more than in 2015. That means you should see year-over-year sales increases of at least 1.67 percent per month. Hopefully you hit 50 percent of your sales goals (a 10-percent total increase) by June 30. If so, you’ve got a 10-percent bump left, so align your teams and training to the behavior necessary to exceed each upcoming month’s targeted goals. Seek out the low-hanging fruit first, such as raising beverage incidence and dessert sales. Design monthly sales contests for your teams, and be sure to post progress reports/scoreboards daily and make selling a focus at every pre-shift meeting. 

2. Hire power. As unemployment numbers shrink, so does the available labor pool. Therefore hiring and retention will continue to have the highest priority for the remainder of the year, and in 2017 as well. Elevate the importance of hiring and retention to the same level as food safety. If your goal was to reduce turnover by 25 percent this year, replicate what worked in the first half of the year in the second half to cut churn 2 percent each month for the remainder of 2016.

3. Focus on what’s important, not just what’s urgent. I detailed this strategy in last month’s column. Strategic clarity is your No. 1 resource for setting and attaining goals. Does everyone on your team clearly understand the targets and their role in attaining them? If you’ve been lax in your discipline and accountability to achieve the goals so far, then the reality is that you have to double down every month from here on out. Discipline is a daily behavior, not an annual one.

4. Set milestones. At the end of every month, be certain to share progress on your goals and how close you came — or how far you exceeded — each objective. Having scoreboards are important for your team’s self-initiative and pride. I can remember a Little League game so many years ago when our coach was giving us a motivational talk about the concept that, “It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, it’s about having fun.” Then Robert Compton, our stocky, wry catcher raised his hand and asked: “Then why do we keep score?” Classic. 

5. Celebrate accomplishments. What you reinforce is what you get. What you don’t reinforce is what you lose. Recognize all individual and team successes. This is the essence of servant leadership and helps to build a strong employee culture. Strengthen your team’s perception and belief in their abilities daily to achieve the goals you’re collectively striving toward. What people believe shapes what people achieve.

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6. Reduce complexity. Task saturation and data onslaught are hollowing out the energy and focus of managers. This is critical, because energy — not “time” — is the fundamental currency of high-performing supervisors. Filter the amount of reports and data you subsume managers with. If you introduce a new system, remove an old one. Assess team engagement no less than quarterly. Ask: Are my people overwhelmed or underwhelmed at work? The answer to each question is critical. Find out why and resolve the issue. Human beings are not designed to be passive, apathetic and compliant. We're designed to be active and engaged.

7. Factor in disruption. There’s a historical mismatch between what technology enables and what the restaurant business does. I like to say that we live in in 2016 but work in 1996. Close the technology and systems gaps. Change or be changed by change. I saw an unattributed quote recently in a conference PowerPoint slide that said it best: “Everything now being done in the foodservice industry is going to be done differently. It’s going to be done better. And if you don't do it, your competitors will.” That’s a poster-worthy thought right there. Study the fringe competitors in foodservice who are doing things differently and getting scalable results. Adapt, innovate and improve on their initiatives.

The final factor to finish strong this year is to advance in small ways on big goals every shift. The secret to attaining targets is to sustain incremental gains daily against your monthly goals: $30,000 in more sales this next quarter is $10,000 per month, or $178 more per shift. As Grandpa Sullivan used to say: “By the yard, it’s hard. By the inch, it’s a cinch.” 

Set your smartphone, laptop or calendar app to release an alarm on Oct. 1. That’s the first day of the last quarter of this year. On Oct. 1, you’ll need to divide your targeted versus actual scores by three and adjust your goals and strategy accordingly. The last week in September is your last chance to do a keen assessment of where you stand with your lag goals for the year and align a big push to end strong in that final quarter. 

But why wait? If you start the process now, it will be a lot less stressful and resource-consuming then. 

Three simple questions will help you progress toward your goals: “Were we better today than we were yesterday? Did we do more of what matters to drive our business forward? Did we do it better than we did last month?” You don't have to be flawless, just improving. Every restaurant operator has two choices: make plans or make excuses. And maybe Keith Moon, the late Who drummer, summed it up best: “Time flies when you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at Leadership Conferences worldwide. Companies using his products, programs or services include Walt Disney, Starbucks, Panera Bread, Portillo’s, Coca-Cola and Olive Garden. You can access his apps, videos and training catalog at

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