Turn Around Even the Most Unmotivated Team by Being Proactive

I’ve worked in a few different managerial settings throughout my career, but the one that continues to resonate is my time in the quick-serve food industry. In my previous tenure with one specific company, I was transferred to a location managed by one of the most corporate-minded, emotionally oblivious managers I’ve ever encountered. This man’s tact with his superiors and ability to budget is what got him the position, but no one seemed to account for his complete lack of effective communication with subordinates. And it showed in his hiring decisions.

The restaurant opened its doors just two weeks prior to my arrival, and the crew was in total shambles. Varying backgrounds, language barriers and age differences added to the overall confusion of this very new manager, who was now asking me for help. All of the employees were trained on one position only (the archaic and overly abused Aces in Their Places model). There were no opportunities for advancement, and employee engagement was at an all-time low.

With mass termination a strong possibility, something had to be done quickly to turn the situation around.

Start With Increasing Employee Engagement

The quickest way to bring any business to its knees is abysmally poor employee engagement. If employees can’t trust their managers, they can’t trust the company to take care of them. In fact, an infographic by Ohio University shows that unhappy employees can lead to theft to the tune of $50 billion annually from their companies. And this one was no exception.

The quickest way to bring any business to its knees is abysmally poor employee engagement.

Prior to my transfer to this location, two previous employees were let go and had formal charges pressed against them for making off with over $400. The official reason they gave for the theft was that they “weren’t getting paid enough, and it wasn’t looking like [they] would be getting promoted any time soon”.

Knowing this, I began proactively engaging with the employees, learning their individual motivating factors and enacting a comprehensive and consistent cross-training program. The goal: train every employee on the floor for every position to proficiency, and carefully document their progress. Through making simple tweaks to my existing formula to best fit the trainee, I was able to effectively cross-train everyone on all positions, even those employees whose first language wasn’t English.

By upholding my promise to train and hold my employees accountable, engagement increased exponentially floor-wide and theft was wholly eliminated. Through dedication and diligence, employees began to feel valued and this was illustrated through their consistent high performance during peak hours.

Train with the Employees, Not To Them

In regard to the language/cultural barrier, I didn’t approach it as a debilitating obstacle, but rather as an opportunity. One example was a man named Burhan, an immigrant from South Africa who was working to help move the rest of his family to the United States. This was Burhan’s part-time job, and even though he was unable to speak English proficiently, he was good at reading it.

Utilizing this knowledge, I modified the training program to include written orders that appeared on a nearby screen. I stuck with this approach for two weeks, and by the time it was over, he had memorized all of the recipes and had greatly increased his productivity. Eventually, Burhan began assisting me with training new hires and even earned two separate performance awards from the regional office.

Being adaptable is a crucial ingredient in effective people management, and Burhan’s case proves that there is no “one size fits all” training program. Being able to adapt to various personalities is an important tenet of management, including the food industry. This “people first” approach was so effective that it became a permanent part of management training thereafter, company-wide.

The Aftermath

After one year of continuous service at this location, the results were hard to ignore. Employee turnover had reached an all-time low, five internal promotions were awarded to top performers, and the store itself was labeled a region-wide training center. The standard we set at this location continued long after I left for new pastures. And even setting foot in the location almost ten years later, I still see my impact resonating.

If you want to get the best possible performance from your team, you have to make them feel valued, and the rest will simply fall into place.

In the end, I don’t see myself as a visionary, but rather a person interested in leading people. I never saw them as a detriment or an obstacle, but rather as silent heroes just waiting for a voice. If you want to get the best possible performance from your team, you have to make them feel valued, and the rest will simply fall into place.

 

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Robert Conrad is a former Business student who graduated with a 3.91 GPA. The courses he most excelled in were Marketing and Diversity training. Robert has received multiple accolades for his dedicated contributions to improving team morale and training methods. One such past honor included an invitation to attend a company focus summit whose guest list included higher-ranking managers, marketing executives and the CEO himself. He truly believes that an engaged and happy team makes the difference between a business’s success or failure. After becoming a husband and a father, he gave up the fast-paced lifestyle of a trainer, and now works as a mentor for at-risk youth and also cooks part-time at a local juvenile facility. Robert truly believes in the power of persuasion, compassion and camaraderie in the workplace, and regards employee mistreatment as the chief cause of businesses failing to meet their financial and employee retention goals.

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