Don’t Lead a Horse to Water, Make it Thirsty

Image: TNMKiley-Miller / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Don’t take this the wrong way…but your training sucks. 

I mean, you can take it the wrong way, say, “Screw this, I’m out,” and stop reading here. Or you could say that perhaps this guy might be onto something and decide it’s better for you to hear me out.

Still here? Good. Let’s dig in!

Training is often considered a part-time—or worse, a one-time—job that’s done when a new employee joins the team. We spend a few hours and days with this new team member expecting them to be the bearer of the standards. Then we end up firing them for not doing what we had explained during that brief window of training.

Most restaurant training programs (if you can even call them that) are really just setting people up for failure. Then we sit back and throw out some shade like, “There are no good people out there,” “They weren’t a good fit for our restaurant,” “Kids today just don’t want to work,” or my favorite, ”If I want anything done right, I have to do it myself.”

Yeah, your training sucks. Big time. 

So, what’s a leader to do? First, admit that you don’t have a training problem, you have a culture problem. That culture problem changes when you step up to be the leader they desire and deserve! You’re not going to like this next point: Being a true leader starts with changing yourself. I know, it would be so much easier if everyone else around us would change.

However, when you consider for a moment how hard it is to just change yourself, you’ll finally see what little chance you have of changing other people. The odds aren’t in your favor. So, if changing another person isn’t an option, what is?

1. Change the Culture

Here’s one thing you do have control over as a leader: the culture of your bar, nightclub or restaurant. Unlike the personalities of people, your culture is a little more fluid. It’s like a river and it adapts to what feeds it. A river can be just a trickle but when heavy rains come down it can turn into a raging powerhouse. Water in a river is energy. It’s energy that drives your culture. That’s on you.

So, what are you doing to set the example and become a better leader?

  • Taking care of yourself?
  • Reading new books or blogs, or listening to audiobooks?
  • Taking an online course?
  • Working with a mentor or coach?
  • Eating better?
  • Getting that anger issue under control?

Change yourself and your culture will immediately start to shift. Will it be as fast as you like? No. However, most things don’t change as fast as we like—that’s just life. If your culture has been out of control for some time, it’s going to take about half of that time to get it back on track!

Read this: Excuse Me, Have You Seen My Core Values Running Down the Street?

So, if your culture has been like the Wild West for the last year, expect to put in a consistent 6 months correcting it. Sorry, that’s just how it goes. You let your culture and business get away from you, so now it’s time to strap in for the road to recovery.

2. Purge the Vampires

You know they’re out there in your restaurant, those negative energy vampires that prey on positive energy and suck the life out of it. The employees who use sarcasm and little snide comments as weapons to bring down everyone else’ energy levels. Some of these vampires may be your key people, unfortunately. The scary thing is that some might even be your family or friends.

Vampires are just pessimists who don’t want to see the world for what it can be: a better place. They only want to see the world limp along so they can revel in the misery. It’s like a perpetual dark cloud follows them around all day. They want to bring those around them down to their level and it’s time you stopped tolerating them in your restaurant.

I recently worked with a client who had a N.E.V. (Negative Energy Vampire), and it was his chef! As talented as the guy was, he was a plague on the morale and energy of the kitchen. His negative energy spilled over to the other members of the service team and they became afraid to go back into the kitchen to ask a question or relay a special request from a guest. Fear destroys teams and it means death to your culture.

Was the owner excited about getting rid of his chef who had been with him over a year and helped open the concept? Oh, hell no. But our conversation turned with one statement I made to him: “You can’t control your restaurant until your control your culture.”

Read this: Five Questions with PDT's Jim Meehan About Talent, Training and Time

The lightbulb clicked and he finally knew what he had to do if he ever wanted his restaurant to thrive and not survive: eliminate the N.E.V.s from his culture. Was he scared? Yes. Was he worried about not finding another talented chef? Yes. Did he take action despite his fear? Yes.

Here’s the interesting things about fear: whatever we’re afraid of never seems to turn out as bad as we thought it would. The client did find a new chef within days. With a better selection system in place he made a major upgraded to his culinary talent. He hired a chef that shared similar core values and had the optimistic attitude required to excel at the job. Things in the kitchen have already turned around. The service team is being trained more about the food and the guest experience scores are rising each week.

3. Be Hungry

Cultures that foster an environment for learning always outperform those that just train occasionally. Here’s where culture starts to really grow exponentially: when people are hungry to learn and grow. Too many view training as a necessary evil: “I gotta give them the same standard two- to 7-day training program and then I’ll just throw them into a station or section where they either sink or swim.” That’s not a training system—that’s a failure system.

Giving people the minimum training or education to do their job is why your system is broken. You set them up to fail and wonder why they didn’t work out. It’s because you didn’t train your team to excel at their jobs. Instead, you gave them a few key points (maybe a training manual), had them follow around a “trainer,” and cut them loose on your hard-earned guests. 

The word “training” should be replaced with the word “education.” We need to develop our teams to where they feel we have a vested interest in their personal growth. This means that you, as the primary energy source for the culture, must be committed to learning as well. Why? Because that hypocritical attitude of “do as I say and not as I do” is a line of bullshit that doesn’t work with today’s workforce. Yeah, you’re going to need to up your game as a leader who sets the example if you want to attract and retain staff today. Leadership by example is the only path to success.

Read this: Are You a Red Ocean or Blue Ocean Operator?

Share books, magazines, blog posts and audiobooks with your team. Let them see you wanting to become a better leader with your obsession with learning. You see, you don’t want to lead a horse to water, you want to make it thirsty. You don’t train your team, you get them thirsty for knowledge. Once you shift from a training culture to a learning culture you see some spectacular benefits:

  • Reduced turnover
  • Fewer staff calling in
  • Increased energy
  • Better guest reviews
  • Fewer mistakes
  • Increased profits

Culture is a foundational element to any successful brand. That culture is created by either default or design. You always want a say in the development of your culture. That all starts with becoming a better person and a better leader. Culture flows down, not up, and culture starts with you.

One benefit of attending the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show is the opportunity to learn from Donald Burns himself! He'll be presenting an educational session on March 25 at 3:00 p.m. titled "Competition is for Suckers: How to Become a Blue Ocean Operator" that you won't want to miss. Register now!

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