Leaders need to create resiliency and momentum

Foodservice Waiters and Chefs Gathered Around Each Other for Staff Meeting

By Matt Rolfe

We have all heard the analogy of the duck — although calm and collected above the water, its feet are frantically paddling to keep moving and to keep their head above the water. As a small-business entrepreneur supporting the hospitality industry through my two companies, this is how I often feel. And as a hospitality leadership coach, this is what I see with many of my clients on a weekly basis.

Let me provide some context. Many of the leaders I interact with and coach are highly successful in so many ways. These leaders have built great companies, operations and teams, but even with all of their success, they can feel a shift in the waters. Revenues might be strong, but profits are tight or declining. Average checks are up, but transactions are down. They have solid teams in place, but turnover is still high. Their online reviews are positive, but deep down they know they are not providing the guest experience they feel they need to as guest/consumer spending gets tighter, and as inflation and interest rates continue to climb.

Let’s take this another layer deeper. I care about businesses and feel that hospitality operations are one of the core elements in an industry that still provides the ability to have human-to-human connection that’s wrapped around a remarkable experience. These experiences are delivered by people who have chosen a path and life of service. We need to acknowledge what we have recently been through, the impact it has had on us and our industry, and be intentional around how we create space to heal. To be successful we need to lead and operate differently for ourselves, and others.

Don’t step over it… lean into it – As high-performing leaders, our job is to be looking six, 12 or 36 months out and to create clarity for our people so they know what is expected of them and how they win in their roles. Not only do we need to keep focused on the future while creating clarity for today, we also need to think about where our leaders, managers, and staff are at, and what they need from us right now. You may be feeling positive about where you’re at, but remember your people still need time to process, share, and understand where they’ve been, where the operation is at and where it’s going.

To support them, I encourage you to bring your people together not to talk about operations, goals or targets, but to create space to talk about them — where they’re at, what questions they might have, what things they might have concerns about and what they need from you moving forward. In order to create new opportunities, we need to close the loop on the past. The goal is not to fix, change, or celebrate some of the things that you hear, but to listen deeply and caringly. Once that happens teams can move out of the past and into today, and the future.

Next… relentlessly pursue your desired guest experience – Whether you run a hotel, full-service restaurant, or QSR concept, in order to have a sustainable and scalable operation you must have a great guest experience. If that is the case, then why is service so average in Canada? This year, so many amazing brands have reached out to me to discuss engaging in work together to support their guest experience and employees and there is a recurring pattern in what I’m hearing: “During the pandemic we really got great at operations, but we lost sight of our guest experience.” “The experience we provide our guest is good, but not good enough.” “We have flashes of great service but based on how much turnover we are experiencing; we are not consistent enough.”

My job as a coach is to study what patterns move us towards our goals and what patterns move us away from our goals. Based on guest demands and consumer spending trends, the path to success for your operation is your burning desire and focus to deliver a relentlessly remarkable guest experience no matter what your concept.

I’m not going to get into the framework here of how to design your steps of service, but I want you to focus on the human element of your guest experience. How do you make everyone around you care as passionately as you do about creating a great experience for your guest? I encourage you to spend some time on the three steps below. There are no right answers to these questions, the more focused and intentional you are on your concept, your community, your guest, the more successful you will be.

Think about your audience – Invest some time into thinking about the questions: “why should your staff care about delivering your guest experience?” Not when they can, not when you’re fully staffed, not when it’s not too busy… why should they provide this experience every time? What’s in it for them? Is it working on a team that deeply cares about the work they are doing? Is it because of the financial upside they will experience based on tipping culture? Is it because they will feel recognized, supported and valued on a daily basis by your managers and guests? Make it cool to care and execution becomes much easier.

What you measure improves – Online reviews are great, but I encourage you to think about additional ways to measure your guest experience. When you measure consistently, it forces the leaders to clearly explain their expectations to their managers and staff. This might sound simple, but I often walk into a new client and ask if I can go to a few staff members and have them write down the experience they are expected to create for their guest. Around 95 per cent of the time, the staff provide fundamentally different answers. If you measure the behaviour consistently it allows for you to do the following.

Recognize and reward – One of my favourite books of the last few years is Atomic Habits by James Clear. He proves through his research that you can only sustainably change behaviours through recognition of progress in the direction of your goals. Create clarity, measure consistently, and then recognize and reward regularly and you will provide your staff and guest a desirable experience in your establishment.

Times are challenging, but if you lean in, commit to positive, productive, and outcome-focused change, your people and operation will succeed moving forward.

For more FREE tools and resources to support this change, email Matt Rolfe at [email protected]

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