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Minimum Effort for Minimum Wage

1 Oct

It’s a situation I think every fast food manager is familiar with.

The classic setup:

You’re inspecting the work of a crew member, usually a cleaning task but sometimes work that is central to the job (such as the wrap of a sandwich).  It’s not good enough.  The table base is still dirty, the wall still has spots, or the sandwich looks like a really cute baby slapped it several times while giggling.

You know how babies do that when they discover something cool, especially if it’s a squishy something cool.  But I digress.

You inform the employee that the task is not done properly and tell them they have to redo it.  They say the task is “good enough,” and that since you only pay them minimum wage, you only get their minimum effort.

That sickens me on two levels, and I let my employees know it sickens me on two levels, One Minute Reprimand style.

On the first level comes the ridiculously high current minimum wage.  In Ohio, state minimum wage is higher than federal minimum wage, so we must pay our folks $7.70 per hour.  And, on January 1, 2013, it will rise to $7.85 per hour.

I didn’t make anywhere near that for my entire stint in hourly management!

As unpopular opinion as this is, I think that fast food crew are overpaid because of the minimum wage.  The job responsibilities of a crew member are not commensurate with the federal minimum wage, let alone the higher Ohio one.

Of course, I always get, “Was gas as high as it is now?  Did the food here cost almost $7 for some sandwiches?  Were any other prices this high?”  Of course, the answer to all of that is NO.  And the crew member folds her arms in superiority.  She won against her know-it-all manager.

Then I explain the second way that response sickens me: the deontolgical response.  This is almost a fancy, philosophical way of saying “guilt trip.”  The hypothetical crew person can’t win against this.  It is best illustrated with an example:

If you go to McDonald’s and order something off the Dollar Menu, receive it, and find out that the sandwich wasn’t made the way you ordered it or the meat was raw, you’d take it back, right?

Or if you went to Wal-Mart and bought something on clearance, then found out it was defective or broken, you’d return that, right?

Of course.

Because if you pay for something, even if you pay bottom dollar, you expect that it will fit the needs for which you bought it.  And if it doesn’t, then you complain and expect that the store will fix it.

Well, what if the McDonald’s employee told you that since you bought a Dollar Menu item, you only get the minimum possible effort McDonald’s can muster?  Sometimes that equates to “baked under a heat lamp all day” or “served raw.”

What if the Wal-Mart employee said that since this was a clearance item, that you had no right to complain since you didn’t pay full price?  Only general sale items or full price items can be returned.

I’m sure you’d be fired up and pissed.  You’d be asking for high-up managers or writing letters to the respective parent corporations.

Well, how do you think your manager feels at the utterance of “Minimum effort for minimum wage”?

The point: it doesn’t matter what the restaurant is paying a worker.  They have an expectation of how the worker is going to perform, and every right to coach the worker to complete tasks properly.  Or terminate the worker if the worker won’t comply.

“Deontological ethics” are practices you have a duty to perform.  I believe that if a worker agrees to a wage, minimum or otherwise, then they have a duty to put for the best effort every time they are clocked in and collecting money.  If the money isn’t right, don’t take the job.

“Minimum effort for minimum wage” is the attitude of a loser.  Yes, I couched in strong terms because I feel that strongly about it.  If workers can’t be coached properly and they cling to this mantra and the piss-poor attitude that always accompanies it, they need to be replaced immediately.

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Speed of Service 1: Be a Leader

13 Oct

It’s a question faced by every fast food manager at some point in his career: how do I decrease my speed of service? Let’s face it–there is a lot of pressure from above you to do so. Most of the time, the higher-ups will not accept the fact that customers do a lot of little things to increase your speed of service (e.g. not having money ready or taking a super-long time to order). But it’s pointless to vilify the customer when there is so much that can be done by the store’s employees to decrease speed of serivce.

In the previous post, I identified six points for faster service. I will now expound on what they mean. The first point is to simply be a leader. What does that mean?

As the visible head of the organization, your people look to you to get their cues. They actually follow you. Which means that if you’re all about speed of service, then they will be all about speed of service. If you act like speed of service isn’t a big deal, then so will they.

Start by clearly defining the speed of service goal for the shift. At Burger King, our gold standard is less than two minutes and thirty seconds. So I establish that as the goal right off the bat, and I communicate that goal to everyone. Our timer gives an average when there are no cars in drive-thru, so on the rare chance that the drive-thru is empty, I call the time out and give everyone feedback on how they’re doing–either positive or negative.

In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell talks about the Law of Navigation, which says that only a leader can chart the course. It is up to the leader to chart the course on speed of service. The old axiom holds true: “Whoever fails to plan plans to fail.” You need a solid plan in addition to motivation. You need to chart the course. People need to be placed right, the store needs to be set up right, there needs to be enough food to get you through the rush so that everyone can be assisting customers and helping out with service instead of cooking. These points will be covered in later posts, but they’re worth noting at least for now.

In short, if speed of service is in all you say and do, that will rub off on your people and they will be all about speed, too. Clearly define an appropriate goal. Plan your shift to meet that goal, and set up your store for speed.

10 Steps to Empowerment 7: Recognition

1 Dec

Recognition works hand-in-hand with feedback.  The difference is that recognition is an actual reward for positive work performance, while feedback is a quick note on how work performance is progressing.  A One Minute Praising is good for both recognition and feedback.

Since a One Minute Praising might be the most effective low-to-no-cost method of recognition, I thought that this would be a good place to repeat the rules:

  1. Tell people up front that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
  2. Praise people immediately.
  3. Tell people what they did right—be specific.
  4. Tell people how good you feel about what they did right, and how it helps the organization and the other people who work there.
  5. Stop for a moment of silence to let them “feel” how good you feel.
  6. Encourage them to do more of the same.
  7. Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear that you support their success in the organization.

What are some other methods you could use?  At my new store, we are instituting an employee of the month program.  We are also keeping notes about who does things consistently well and we are going to mail a thank-you note to that person’s house.  Each manager has to select an employee over the next two weeks for the thank-you card.

A special honor will be presented to one lucky crew person at the crew meeting on Sunday in front of everyone for outstanding help while the store was short-handed.

There are as many ways to recognize people as there are people.  Some pointers on effective recognition (adapted from 10 Steps to Empowerment by Diane Tracy):

  1. Be sincere.
  2. Recognize the people as well as the achievements.
  3. Make sure the recognition is appropriate for the achievement and consistent with recognition for similar achievements.
  4. Tailor the recognition to the person.
  5. Make sure the recognition is timely.

One Minute Praisings

22 Nov

I received word today that I’m going to transfer to a different location within my company.  This becomes the perfect time to use One Minute Praisings.

One Minute Praisings work like this:

  1. Tell people up front that you are going to let them know how they are doing.
  2. Praise people immediately.
  3. Tell people what they did right—be specific.
  4. Tell people how good you feel about what they did right, and how it helps the organization and the other people who work there.
  5. Stop for a moment of silence to let them “feel” how good you feel.
  6. Encourage them to do more of the same.
  7. Shake hands or touch people in a way that makes it clear that you support their success in the organization. (One Minute Manager, p. 44)

The real tricks to a One Minute Praising are 2 and 3: immediate, specific feedback.  Wendy’s used to call it “laser-specific feedback.”  It was one part of a long-forgotten acronym.

“You did a good job today.”  That isn’t a feel-good praising.

“You made all of the sandwiches according to procedure today, and I didn’t get a single callback or customer complaint at the counter.  It’s good to know that I can count on you–thank you.”  Short pause, then: “I trust I’ll see even more of the same from you as we go into our lunch rush.”

The second one feels better because at least this time, the employee knows exactly what he did right. That’s what’s important: that the employee knows why he’s being praised so that he can continue the same behaviors in the future.

These are good to use at the beginning of a new store assignment because the crew isn’t going to know you, and they are not going to know what you’re looking for–unless you tell them.  Through the magic of One Minute Praisings, you will be able to communicate to your new crew what behavior you want to see from them.

If you’re generous with the praisings, you won’t seem like such a hard ass when you must do the inevitable One Minute Reprimand.

10 Steps to Empowerment 3: High Standards of Excellence

19 Nov

All too often fast food becomes an environment that tolerates mediocrity.  Most places I’ve worked at were filled with apathetic workers and managers that sat in the office all day and night.  Shortcuts were the norm.  The old-time employees knew the procedures, but no one actually followed them.  The new people never even learned procedures.

Does this sound like your restaurant?  If so, it is just crying out for higher standards of excellence.  Ideally, the standards should be high, but not out of reach.  For example, if your restaurant has been running a 3:15 average service time all day, then saying that service time will be under 3 minutes  for this week is not unrealistic.  I know that district managers still won’t like that time, but at least it is lower.

If your team beats that goal, say they manage 2:50 average for the week, then give everyone high praise.  Celebrate that number, because beating 2:50 will become next week’s goal.  And so on, and so on.

In this process, enforcing company standards of sandwich build, labor, and food cost are still very important.  Sandwich build procedures take look of final product and food safety regulations into consideration, which is why they may seem strange or too slow to some people.  But they are, nonetheless, very important to follow.

Labor and food cost are the two line accounts that impact the bottom line the most.  Each represent nearly 30% of sales!  Holding food cost to a minimum, both by enforcing proper sandwich building techniques and making sure that they don’t automatically throw each mistake away, will save untold amounts of money.

Now if a mistake is served to a customer, then that mistake must be thrown away.  But, if an employee puts mayo on a sandwich that was requested to be prepared without, that sandwich can be held in case the next customer orders it.  Food cost is important, but not at the expense of food safety.

The only other note on company standards is that they must be communicated to all employees on a regular basis.  They must also be consistently enforced by all managers.

The best way to achieve the required buy-in from employees on these standards is to regularly model them yourself.  As their manager, they will do as you do, not as you say.  So if you have the standards set and communicated but people aren’t following or achieving them, it is time to watch what you are modeling for them.  This is the toughest part of being a manager, I think.

The worst part of fast food is when a few people are achieving the standards and effectively carrying the rest of the staff.  That really hurts morale.  Diane Tracy has some hints on pp. 59-60 of 10 Steps to Empowerment for dealing with this common situation:

Encourage people to keep the communication open with the people in other departments, no matter how incompetent they are.  Discourage them from developing a we-they attitude.

Constantly remind your people of the benefits they will receive from meeting high standards, regardless of what others may be doing.

Explain to them that it takes time for people to change.  (Hopefully,  management is taking steps to correct the problem.)

Encourage them to be role models for others.

If your people are being hindered by the incompetence of others, try to work the problems out with your peer in the other department.  If that doesn’t work, communicate the problem to your boss.

One of the greatest books to help alleviate this situation would be The 360-degree Leader by John C. Maxwell.

10 Steps to Empowerment 1: Clearly Define Responsibility

14 Nov

At Wendy’s, managers were to use a “tool” called TTM–Talk To Me.  No one ever actually defined this “tool” while in training, and district managers were very nebulous as to how one should use it.  Training indicated that a manager was only supposed to TTM his employees, not actually do anything–but let me tell you how much trouble I got into from both my GM and my DM for actually doing that!  In fact, the Operations Leader video showed the manager only talking, never doing.

With all of that contradictory information, what is TTM, really, and how is a manager supposed to use it?  Well, Wendy’s divided TTM into three parts: Talk Into Position, Talk Through Position, and Talk Out of Position.  Talking someone into position means defining their priorities and goals for the day.  Talking someone through position reinforced the goals and priorities set for the day, as well as the restaurant operating procedures.  Talking someone out of position gave them feedback on their overall performance, as well as establishing goals to work on for the next shift.

I propose that TTM was never anything more than a way to clearly define the job responsibility assigned to a person for the day, as well as maintaining that person’s focus on his priorities.  This is the first principle of empowerment: Tell people what their responsibilities are.

It is important not just to define the responsibilities, but also to tell employees how their job fits into the overall scheme of things.  In Teach Your Team to Fish, Laurie Beth Jones gives the example that every cell in the human body has the DNA code for the entire body in its nucleus.  This way, Jones reasons, each cell knows not only its job, but also how its job fits in with the big picture.  That is important, especially for menial jobs.

In fast food, workers deride jobs that they think are pointless, such as moving the fryers and scrubbing behind them.  It’s tough work, no one enjoys heavy cleaning, and–let’s face it–it gets really nasty back there.  But, an employee will feel a little bit better if they understand that detail cleaning of that sort are the types of things that inspectors look more closely at than the “important” jobs, like cashiering or preparing food.  A clean restaurant is important for serving safe food and preventing foodbourne illness.  If anything, this “menial” job is actually more important than the main jobs.

If the manager explains all of that to an employee who complains about detail cleaning, that employee is far more likely to take pride in his work.  Which means that he is going to do a better job, a more efficient job, and perhaps even a faster job!

The middle component of TTM may have been the most important of the three.  Talking someone through position was playing the role of coach.  Reinforcing daily goals and priorities was a must.  Setting the goals is important, but keeping an employee focused on achieving them is far more important.

It is especially important that the manager, who knows the big picture, communicates when priorities change.  We all know that sometimes, plans change.  People call off, others may not be up to performing where they’ve been assigned.  Sometimes counter gets unusually busy.  Sometimes drive-thru gets unusually busy.  All of these unexpected things will change priorities, and it is important for managers to let everyone know, and let everyone know why.

Why is the most important detail, because Diane Tracy observes that ego is tied to responsibility (27).  That means a person will feel a sense of disappointment if he is taken off of a responsibility that he felt he was doing well.  People automatically feel that they are a disappointment to their bosses if they are reassigned without explanation.  Always explain when reassigning someone.  Always explain why priorities are changing, too.

When utilized correctly, these tools will build morale and make the manager’s job so much easier.

Revisiting Empowerment

13 Nov

Diane Tracy’s excellent book, 10 Steps to Empowerment: A Common-sense Guide to Managing People, was the book of 90s management trends. Diane had quite a few good ideas, but as you read later books on management techniques, you discover that many of her ideas were carried too far by the organizational leaders of the day.

Empowering employees to do their jobs is very important. Nowadays, managers are faced with more direct reports than ever. And the downsizing trend doesn’t seem to be halting. Chrysler just announced plans to slash thousands of jobs. I think I heard that managers manage 30 direct reports, compared to 5 twenty years ago. I believe that this trend will continue, and in another 10 years or so, we’ll manage an average of 40-50 direct reports.

Managers simply don’t have the time that they are used to having “back in the day.” This means that delegation becomes so important in today’s workforce. You must properly train employees to do their jobs right without you hanging over their heads.

What that means for the fast food manager is that Diane’s principles should become the basis for how you run your shift.  Your employees should be empowered to take care of customers in the way that they see fit–provided it fits with the general strategy of the company.

For example, the service mark of the franchisee that I work for is “People Pleasing People.”  Before I empower my employees, I must ensure that they understand what that slogan means.  We are people who desire to please other people.  Within the confines of good sense, I want my customers to leave pleased with the service that they received.

What do I mean by good sense?  Well, if a customer complains about a sandwich that has onions on it, replacing the sandwich with a smile and an apology is what I’m looking for.  Replacing the sandwich, giving them two free small sandwiches and a complimentary five dollar gift card just defies good sense.

So that leaves us with defining empowerment based upon Diane’s 10 steps, and then applying each step to the fast food environment.  The 10 steps of empowerment are:

  1. Tell people what their responsibilities are
  2. Give them authority equal to the responsibilities assigned to them
  3. Set standards of excellence
  4. Provide them with training that will enable them to meet the standards
  5. Give them knowledge and information
  6. Provide them with feedback on their performance
  7. Recognize them for their achievements
  8. Trust them
  9. Give them permission to fail
  10. Treat them with dignity and respect

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting my thoughts in turn on each of these 10 steps.  The challenge in fast food, which is traditionally autocratic, how do you move toward the democratic end of the spectrum without giving up your control?  That will be the underlying question as I visit each step.