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7 habits to make the leap from idea to action

Build these skills to bridge the gap between knowledge and execution

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. 

Following a 10-1 loss, a reporter asked Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland what he thought of his team’s execution. Leyland replied: “I’m for it.”

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon may have said it best: “Ideas are easy. Execution is hard.” Foodservice owners and operators know it’s much easier to identify key performance indicators (KPI) than it is to execute them at the unit level on a daily basis. This frustration gap is common among leaders at every level in our industry. At the keynotes, seminars and workshops I conduct for foodservice GMs, franchisees and multiunit leaders, I like to frame the failure-to-execute challenge with three simple questions:

  • If everyone agrees that service, selling, quality, value, cleanliness and friendliness are so important, then why are they executed on some shifts and not others?
  • If every restaurant in your company shares identical brand standards and systems, then why do some foodservice teams and managers outperform others while doing the exact same work?
  • How can we become the kind of company that would put us out of business?

These questions — and their answers — are at the core of what separates successful foodservice brands from mediocre or failing ones: Execution.  Well-done is better than well-said. Let’s examine the strategies and tactics that help successful foodservice brands bridge the knowing-to-doing gap and achieve consistently better results daily. Here are seven execution focal points to improve your aim and generate consistently better results:   

  1. Servant leadership. You have a customer that comes in once a week, 52 weeks a year. You also have the world’s best host or greeter. She’s always on time, greets customers with a smile, suggests appetizers and desserts to every table she seats, and never cancels a shift. Let’s say that tomorrow, for whatever reason, one of them has to go. Who do you vote to save? I’d choose the greeter because their actions generate multiples of repeat business. Having a people-first mentality is a job one for high-performing managers that consistently get things done. They know the importance of MYTOP: Multiplying Yourself Through Other People. A servant leader’s philosophy is as down to earth as home plate: “My customer is anyone who isn’t me.” If you’re not serving the customer directly, you need to be serving someone who is.
  2. Strategic clarity. Leadership is pointless without purpose.  Managers and crew must be clear on what success looks like and how what they’re doing each shift will lead to that success. As Lewis Carroll famously wrote: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there.” So yeah, details need direction. Teams execute when they’re clear on what goal achievement looks like and how achieving those goals will positively impact both the team member and the customer’s experience.  Strategy changes with scale, and as your goals progress, that clarity needs to keep pace, lest your objectives become ambiguous. Ambiguity in goals leads to uncertainty in action and causes employee performance to falter and fail.
  3. Brilliance at the basics. One of the keys to exceptional service-giving is to do the ordinary in extraordinary ways. Never get bored with the basics.  Coach and direct your teams to master the fundamentals and then inspire them to go beyond.  Be maladjusted to mediocrity.
  4. Define success routines. You cannot “manage” customer experience.  Customer experience is an outcome that you can influence but not guarantee.  Focus on being habitually consistent in proven success routines, like pre-shift meetings, that aligns the crew’s actions (cause) with a positive guest experience (effect). The problem is that managers will get bored with the basics and fail to communicate their importance to the crew before each and every shift. Result? Habitually inconsistent repeat business.
  5. Over-teach. Why? Because teams tend to both under-learn and over-forget. Explanation gaps are the most common cause of execution gaps. A restaurant manager can never communicate enough, and they usually communicate way less than they think they do. It’s is a rare company that has been found guilty of over-communicating. How much time do your managers spend fixing problems versus scaling successes? Document and share best practices, pursue and replicate bright spots of innovation in your company. Cascade learning from manager to crew daily: each one teach one. One step by a hundred people is better than a hundred steps by one person.
  6. Size up/wise up. Assess your talent gaps and training gaps every 30 days. Where could teams improve relative to service, selling and cost-control? What tools or resources do they need?
  7. Transformation, not transaction. Most training materials misdirect employees. For instance, they tell how to serve guests, instead of why we serve them, and the value of that service. Teach teams first the value of money and what guests spend at your restaurant relative to their total earnings. Connect that sacrifice in earnings to the value of getting great service in return.

Foodservice managers who consistently execute their initiatives do so three ways 1) they focus on outcomes and not distractions 2) they set/share shift goals daily that are aligned to their quarterly goals and 3) they apply constant, gentle daily pressure on their teams and processes to continuously improve. They understand that you don’t have to be perfect every shift; just better than yesterday. As John Keener, owner of The Charleston Crab House restaurants in South Carolina puts it: “Do the things that count, instead of counting the things you do.”

To learn more about booking Jim to speak at your next conference, please visit Jim has over 350,000 social media followers on LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. The 4th edition of his bestselling book Multiunit Leadership is available at Amazon, or bookstores.

TAGS: Operations
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