“A GOOD BOSS is hard to find, difficult to part with, and hard to forget.”
I had just finished eating breakfast at a small diner and was paying my bill. As I stood at the cash register, I noticed a large plaque hanging on the wall with these words engraved in the middle. Surrounding this interesting statement were the signatures of nearly 40 current and former employees of the establishment. All handwritten, the comments were full of thankfulness and praise for the husband and wife team who own the restaurant. The plaque was given to the owners upon their 10th anniversary as a way to say “thanks.” Summing up the sentiment was the comment: “Best bosses anyone could ever hope for.”
That’s some pretty significant praise for the bosses! And you can be sure this doesn’t happen without some special treatment for their employees. As I look back, I realize the whole place had a positive feel to it. Everyone from the greeter at the door, to the server, to the individual at the cash register was happy and upbeat. The food was tasty too.
So how does this happen? How does a small restaurant employing primarily younger people in an industry that’s known for extremely high turnover generate that kind of sentiment from employees? We all know it’s not done with high wages or outstanding benefits. They have to be competitive with their competition; therefore, the compensation would tend to be on the lower end of the spectrum.
Intrigued with this little place I found, I went back several more times over the next few weeks. Perhaps I consumed too many orders of sausage and eggs, but I was now on a research mission. I started to ask each of the people I interacted with what was behind the plaque and what was different about this place. Several people I spoke with had been working at the restaurant from day one, now more than 10 years. As I scribbled my notes onto the napkin I think they wondered why they were being interviewed.
As I reviewed their comments from our discussions, four things emerge that are noteworthy, and I think make this establishment unique.
- The bosses treated everyone with respect and a distinct sense of fairness. For example, when shifts needed to be adjusted, management was never heavy-handed; rather, they did their utmost to achieve the business goals of a full complement of staff, while trying hard to meet the individual employee’s needs. I think this is often unusual in the restaurant industry.
- The employees shared examples of knowing exactly how the bosses would respond to a variety of situations. They knew what was expected of them and they knew the rules would be applied evenly and without favoritism.
- Training and coaching. No one was expected to learn the ropes on their own. Each new employee worked through a variety of training days with an experienced employee at their side. With everything from washing dishes, to working in the kitchen, to serving, to tending the cash, employees received clear and specific instructions. When mistakes were made they were coached to improvements.
- Valuable feedback. I did have several conversations where I probed into what happened when mistakes were made. The clear message was that mistakes were used as a training opportunity to improve on the service delivered to the customers. Employees left each day with a very good idea of how well they did. There was correction when necessary and lots of encouragement every day.
I think we can all agree that a small diner is not the most complex business. Yet this microcosm of business excellence that I discovered has lots to teach us, and some of its qualities can be applied to much larger enterprises. The world of supply chain is full of complexity, constant and rapid change, and profit margins that must be met. And yet in the midst of these realities, it’s all done with people, and those people aren’t much different from the staff members I encountered at the diner. They’re looking for a place to work where the boss is fair, consistent, provides the necessary training and gives valuable feedback.
I’m looking forward to my next breakfast and continued observations in his little ray of employment sunshine.