Your Staff Still Sucks

Everyone wants to have great employees, but only a few bars do.
Photo Credit: Ross Perry

What a weird dream - All of your employees are great.  They enjoy coming to work and can’t wait to arrive…early!  They always do exactly as they are told and often take the initiative to do what’s needed without your direction.  Your customers have their absolute favorite bartenders and servers and regularly come in to see them.  You feel the strange sensation of falling through space with Kenny G.  You’ve wet your pants.

You wake up and realize you fell asleep in the office.  When you fell off of your chair you spilled the rest of your coffee on your pants and someone just cued Christmas music up on the sound system.  The worst part?  Your staff still sucks.

Everyone wants to have great employees, but only a few organizations realize “the dream.”  How do they do it?  What are their secrets?  Below are some proven strategies that successful owners and managers use to cultivate great employees, divided into three categories:  pre-selection, selection, and cultivation.

Pre-Selection - Determining a profile. 

There is no universal profile that predicts success.  People are different, as are the specific needs of your operation.  The factors you consider to help you select successful employees should therefore take into account individuals’ characteristics as well as those of your establishment…and how comfortably they might fit together.  Be sure to consider the following:

1. What your establishment is (and isn’t).  The nature of your business greatly influences the nature of successful staff.  Do you run a high-turnover, seasonal property, or one that is long-standing and stable?  Turnover in the first might be inevitable and beneficial.  Limiting turnover in the second might be of primary concern.

2. What your customers expect.  Know your entire customer base and where their expectations intersect.  Some customers expect efficiency while others expect more intimate interaction.  Endeavor to provide as much service as possible at this interaction.

3. What motivates your staff.  You will find that individuals are at different points in their journey.  Some may be starting a career in food & beverage.  Others may be looking for some extra money.  Still others may need a second job just to make ends meet.  In the first case, the chance for advancement may motivate.  In the second and third, it might be a part-time schedule or the ability to work and earn the maximum.

4. How long they will stay.  Conventional wisdom says the longer the better.  Sometimes, however, shorter durations can work best for both parties.

5. A Benchmark.  Take the time to identify the characteristics of your best employees and why they fit so well in your operation.  Seek to identify characteristics in others that will result in the same good fit.

Selection - Hiring for the profile.

You can now use the profile that you developed to make a wish list of traits that you should be looking for in your future hires. This will help you to better assess who gets past the initial scan and on to the next step of being interviewed.  Here are some tips for a successful selection process.

1. Record all of your interview questions and all of the responses.  This may seem tedious, but it helps to determine a valid profile.  Pay particular attention to the responses of the best employees.  Combine their answers in an interview sheet to see which new candidates answer similarly.

2. Be honest with candidates about what the job truly entails.  The duties and compensation of the job need to match those included in the job description. Be careful that your effort to sell the position to an applicant doesn’t result in a disappointed new hire.  It’s not all about the money…but mostly it is.

3. Ask employees to help interview.  They have to work together.  They will feel empowered.  There will be no surprises.

4. When negotiating keep in mind that it’s not all about the money…but mostly it is. 

Cultivation - The follow-through.

Hiring well simply means that you have a fighting chance to turn your new employees into great employees.  How you handle them once you have them is the key factor in them becoming exceptional.  We think that the identification and constant reinforcement of behaviors that are valued, and the identification and consistent correction of behaviors that are not, is the most important effort you should make in this regard.  A great staff comes from the application of your good judgment and consistent effort. 

1. Be clear about your expectations.  Gray areas are for dirty books for housewives.

2. Be consistent.  Easy or firm -- it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that the same actions result in the same reactions.   

3. Hold them accountable.  Immediately.

4. Be realistic.  Constantly assess your standards and especially if you are providing your team the tools to achieve them.

5. Have a plan for each employee.  As mentioned earlier, each employee is unique.  Each employee should have an individualized plan that achieves the best for them and you.

6. Make them aware of the progress of the business.  Communicating this information helps them become invested in the overall success.

7. Assign employee mentors.  These are not necessarily trainers.  They should be selected from your best performers to serve as an example that reinforces expectations.

8. Ask employees how they could best be used.  After getting over the initial shock they will tell you and appreciate that you asked. 

9. Let your employees know they are valued.  Just say thank you sometimes.  Everyone likes to know they are appreciated.

10. Let them quit when they want to.  Too many managers play games to keep employees whose time has come, mostly to avoid having to hire.  C’mon!


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