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We all want to give our customers a great experience. And one major factor influencing that experience is the interaction with your staff.

Ask Jill! Making your restaurant’s values crystal clear to employees

How to reinforce your company’s culture internally

We all want our businesses to succeed and our restaurants to thrive. We all want to give our customers a great experience. And one major factor influencing that experience is the interaction with your staff. 

This month’s question addresses this pivotal fact. Tennille Boyer of goHappy asks: “Would your frontline know how to respond innately to a situation based on your values? Are your values so clear to be able to act on them?”

I think Boyer touches on two very important aspects. First and foremost, are your core values, vision, and mission crystal clear for easy understanding and implementation? (Have you re-evaluated them since Covid? If you’re still working from pre-pandemic standards, stop — tweak them to incorporate your employees’ experience to become the employer of choice for greater attraction and retention!)

Secondly, have you systematically “educated” your employees on who you are, what you stand for, what your brand promise is, and how they should speak and treat each other and your end customers? Does this happen from the first day and in the ongoing integration of your daily operations? If you asked your customers, internal (employees) and external, about any of these foundational elements, would they be able to tell you what they are from their experience with your restaurant? Thank you, Boyer, for these very important questions, sparking a lot of thought and internal discussions for all restaurant owners and management. Let’s dive into how to make sure the values of your company’s culture are so clear that your people will innately be able to act in alignment.

Let’s assume you’ve discussed the basic concept of values, vision, and mission with your executive team. Have you documented it? Not just in a Word doc, or printed and framed for all to pass by it unnoticed so you’ve checked the box of having done it — but have you incorporated it into every step of your operations in your cycle of employee and customer journeys, even to your suppliers, anyone who touches your business in some way? The point is that anyone who has experienced your restaurant in any capacity should be able to describe what your core values are through the culture you’ve created being an expression of those values.

Beyond identifying your values, vision, and mission, I suggest you go deeper and create your company’s doctrine of core service standards, which will be the framework, the creed, for your company’s culture. It is here you can identify how you want your staff to behave, speak, handle problems, etc. To be acted upon, the doctrine must be clearly defined, taught, and shown by leadership’s example, repeatedly. These standards will become the guide by which to answer all questions that arise in daily business. This is all a part of the first E of my “E3 + 1 Recipe”, Educate, for a positive company culture to become the employer of choice. (By the way, this is one element of the “Educational Manual.”)

Ritz-Carlton is a shining example of this practice’s success, and how this can be accomplished. Founder Horst Schulze established this gold standard of service when creating Ritz-Carlton’s 25 standards of service. He would send out a message to his team daily, discussing one of those service standards. It was like the mantra of that day. The next day, the next standard, and so on until he went through all 25. Then on day 26, he’d start over with standard number one. Because of the cycle, over a relatively short period of time working there, living out those service standards would become second nature. To act on them innately was 100% natural. It became a part of their DNA over the years. This is one outstanding example you can implement in your organization for similar results.

Ritz-Carlton is also known for what’s become known as its “$2000” rule. They would grant their employees with a $2000 budget to solve customer problems without needing to ask for a manager. Of course, your amount can be whatever is appropriate for your restaurant, but the concept is the same. Empowerment. This also falls under my third “E” in the E3 + 1 Recipe, Entrust. When you reach this final and highest level in developing your people, you trust them implicitly to take independent action in the best interest of the restaurant. But you can only do this if you’ve done your job as leadership in educating and training them, setting an example for them, and consistently using your service standards as your golden rules by which to treat each other and your customers.

If you were your own customer (and I suggest you be), what would be your ego-free, honest opinion of your experience of all the factors you expect from your people?

Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, set a great example of being his own customer to learn if his people were living by his company’s values and culture of kind customer support. Zappos started as just a site for selling shoes. Hsieh called into his support line very late at night, saying he was in town on business and really wanted pizza but didn’t know where to call. He was happy to experience his support person putting him on hold to get the information and come back with details to help him find pizza. This exemplified the true nature of Zappos’ core values, regardless of making that sale.

Growing up, whenever my family was in the car and we’d pass one of our stores, if my dad saw a light out, a piece of trash on the lot, or a line of customers waiting, he would pull in saying, “I’ll be right — back.” (My parents’ first McDonald’s was store #150 in Ocala, Fla., in 1959.) After waaaaiting and waaaaiting, I’d finally go in to see where he is, and every time, I’d find him with his sleeves rolled up, shuffling between “dressing buns,” working the fry station, and helping at the counter to get the customers served quickly, and always with a smile. At a very young age and throughout my life growing up and working in the restaurant industry, this concept of living your values, day and night, was modeled for me. It’s now in my DNA and is the foundation of my work.

That “fresh eyes and ears” perspective on your company’s operations is priceless. You may have heard, “Even the sharpest knife can’t cut its own handle.” When we are deeply involved in our business day and night, we cannot truly see what is happening from the outside perspective. It’s human nature to often see what we expect and have confirmation bias vs. seeing what is really going on for others.

Responding to situations must be based on a restaurant’s culture, established around its values. The definition of this culture involves aligning actions with core principles and beliefs. In review, I’ve highlighted five systematic ways that build upon one another, for which a restaurant can ensure innate and value-driven responses to various issues that arise:

  1. Establish clear core values (mission and vision)
  2. Create your company creed and service standards aligned with galues
  3. Institute standard operating procedures (SOPs) according to creed and standards
  4. Model aligned behaviors desired from staff, by leadership to staff
  5. Entrust and empower staff

Thank you, Tennille Boyer, for raising such important topics around the fundamentals needing to be questioned, discussed, and solved at the very beginning to develop a strong, positive company culture where your values are so clear they are obvious. The outcome is a culture felt by those who experience your restaurant because they’ve been educated on those values and modeled for them. The result is that your staff will know exactly how to respond regardless of what occurs with each other and with the end customers.

Be the next one to have your culture concerns highlighted in the next Ask Jill! Develop Your Company Culture article. Write in your question directly to [email protected]

Jill Raff 2.jpegAUTHOR BIO

Jill Raff is the globally recognized EX2CX Advisor, working with executive leaders who recognize the paradigm shift: the non-negotiable creation of a more humanized culture prioritizing their people. She helps organizations that recognize their people are their greatest asset but need help creating new systems and procedures to develop the culture resulting in higher retention and greater productivity. Companies experience employee and customer lifetime value using her methodology connecting the employee experience (EX) to the customer experience (CX) — EX2CX.

Jill grew up working with her parents, owner/operators of McDonald's franchises, starting with store No. 150. Her customer service philosophy of Transforming Transactions Into Interactions starting with the employee originated from observing her parent's work and their interactions with legendary founder Ray Kroc. EX and CX is in Jill’s DNA. Based on her diverse background working in multiple industries — and living in 7 countries — Jill developed her Inside-Out Framework based on her “3+1 Recipe” to build a culture creating attraction and retention, often described as “where McDonald’s & Michelin meet.” Contact her at [email protected].

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