Management Engagement — The Key to Success


By Corey Dalton

When I speak with restaurant owners they all understand the importance of having their team engaged in the business. They all agree on how important it is to have a strong, stable general manager and a committed management team. When I propose that management engagement leads to employee engagement, which leads to a great customer experience, no one argues. The result of this combination of positive experiences is, of course, consistently excellent execution and, consequently, increased sales. From franchisees to presidents, everyone agrees with the hypothesis that it will be difficult to achieve greatness without a management team that is fully committed and connected to the business.

But agreeing with the logic is not the same as following through. Ask yourself, where do you spend the most time in your meetings? How much time is spent on the next advertising campaign versus management training? What is the ratio of your investment in attracting guests compared to keeping good managers? Of course, there are notable examples of restaurant companies that look after their management assets. The top companies tend to have solid management retention and their financial results correlate positively. But which came first? Are they just now able to spend the resources on their key people because they have achieved a critical mass, or has it always been that way? I know from my early experience with one of those successful chains that management training was a part of their DNA from inception. Management gatherings where you could share ideas and learn from the veterans were the glue that connected you to the enterprise.

If you accept the premise that the managers’ level of satisfaction is important, then you need to measure it and, just as importantly, you need to do something with the results. It’s important to know what your management turnover is but, by the time you get those results, it may be too late. That is, turnover is a lagging indicator: your talent is out the door by the time you realize it’s an issue. Companies need to measure the level of engagement in the management ranks. That data provides reliable predictive information that can point you in the right direction and allow you to make changes before people leave. I use a six-step process to aid in this regard:

1. Develop a questionnaire that is consistent with the firm’s values and beliefs
2. Distribute the confidential survey — ensuring you get a high participation rate
3. Summarize the data and look for trends, but don’t make any assumptions
4. Meet with groups of managers and ask them to give you more context to the results
5. Provide the information to senior management, determine a plan and communicate that plan back to the managers
6. Execute the plan and repeat the process

This approach makes sense for companies of any size. There is a time commitment — and perhaps some financial investment — involved and every company will approach this process differently. Engagement surveys can be as simple as 10 to 15 questions on a paper survey, which is collected and compiled confidentially by a trusted third party. The methodology may change, but each of the steps in the process is important for different reasons.

The hospitality industry is not getting any easier and, in order to be successful, it will be critical to effectively leverage our resources. Focusing on the front line managers and improving their attitudes, skills and knowledge is a sound, profitable strategy.

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