“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it;. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.” 

David Ogilvy

It’s one interview question that has stood the test of time.  There are many questions that have been abandoned but this is not one of them.

“Tell me how you develop people”

Cue the butterflies, cue the rapid heart- beat, cue the sweaty palms.

We are all guilty of it on any given day.  There is so much to do and oftentimes it is easier to complete tasks ourselves instead of taking the time to teach our employees to complete them.  We rationalize it because customers are waiting, and we can see the lost dollars as we (sometimes) physically push an hourly employee out of the way and work the grill, the expo window or the cash register.  After the rush, we trust those same employees to complete medial tasks such as cleaning bathrooms and restocking the paper goods; by that point you are sitting in the office counting money.  But, are you thinking of all the future money you lost that day because you didn’t train others to care about the business too?

Where does this mistake begin?  It begins with the failure to hire the right hourly employees in the first place.  Jim Collins points out in his book “Good to Great”, that this is the beginning of our failure to become great.

“Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”

That seems like an easy enough philosophy when hiring for office jobs and high- end management jobs; but does it work for restaurant hourly employees?

In the mid 1990’s restaurants could not find enough hourly employees quickly enough. Many chains suffered because they hired any candidate who walked in the door.  Because of this, quality suffered and few of those employees were developed.  Fast forward to 2012 and the candidate pool is not much different, except they have more pressure to perform earlier, better and faster. This pressure and evolving work ethic has pressed restaurant managers into not developing their people.  Managers fail to maintain relevance with a very different labor pool; it’s a different world and we have to change with it in order to develop people.  The failure to develop people is causing a trickle down effect where corporations are not able to promote from within because hourly employees are being treated like robots.

It sounds good, in theory, to develop people, but how can you do this?  How can you make sure you have the right people in the right seats on the bus?  The answer is not simple, but there are some practical suggestions. Some corporations allow for testing hourly employees to understand how that employee can be set up to succeed.  Others have huge initiatives at high schools and begin recruiting very early.  At my company, we use “Strength Finders” by Tom Roth.  “Strength Finders” is a small investment that provides invaluable information about what makes your employees as valuable as they can be to your organization.  However, it is understandable in the restaurant environment, managers are pressed to just get a person on the grill line or in the hostess stand.  So, what do you do then?  What do you do when you are not provided with a way to understand how to maximize the strengths of your employees?


It will go against everything in you to stop and train.  You have to do it.  You have to train your employees; your paycheck depends on it.  Walt Disney World does this amazingly well.  How many times have you stood in a long line to pay for your food with a new employee “earning his ears”?  By the way, that is almost never a manager training that new employee but rather a seasoned hourly employee who has been tasked with training.

So, the next time the line is out the door, and the fries need to be dropped in the fry station, a keg needs to be changed in the bar, or the bathroom needs to be cleaned- pick an employee to teach how to do it and more importantly teach them WHY it is important.  Develop those underneath you to push you up and take your job so that you can take the job of somebody above you doing the same.

Start by hiring the right people, continue with observing strengths, then execute an action plan to maximize those strengths. End by cross training.  And most importantly, care about your employees.  When you care about them, there will be no end to what they will do for you.


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