I've noticed a concerning trend in the food service/retail sector, particularly in the Northwest. Case study: a small food service business with 1-5 locations experiences a fast rise in success. The business owners develop a niche and high quality product. They are able to charge a high price point for the products and the customers return, stand in line and support the business allowing for expansion. Behind the scenes (and in front), are employees working hard each day to support the owners vision and create the high quality experience that customers expect. Since this is a food service business, the employees enjoy a decent income, much of which is derived from the tips customers provide for the service and experience the employee has offered to them. The relationship between management and staff is relatively close allowing for staff to influence the business and feel appreciated. Promotions are generally internal at the early stages and training is valued.
The business eventually reaches (or appears to) a tipping point where a different legal structure and partnership seems necessary in order to continue at the current pace of success. Perhaps it is the owners initiative; perhaps it is an outside interest that dangles a carrot or otherwise makes an offer that is hard to say no to. In comes new interests, new management, new legal business agreements. Behind the scenes, usually without staff engagement and input, change begins. And this is where I am concerned.
The service industry business is all about Service. And who provides that Service that keeps customers coming back, telling their friends, posting to their social media, standing in line for hours and otherwise? The staff. The employees that work hard every day to create the customer experiences that drive a business to success. This change is frequently referred to as becoming "corporate". Guess what experienced business leaders and investors (those over 40 years old), Corporate is a bad word! It sums up everything that staff feels: unappreciated, overworked, dis-empowered, disconnected.
Here is the take-away: your front line staff and managers are the ones that made the business successful in the first place. They did this with managements leadership and support. They were empowered to be part of the organization and to influence how it reached its success. If you take this away from the staff, you will lose the very culture that made the business attractive to you in the first place. If staff is feeling undervalued, they will leak their discontent to the very customers that you need to meet the financial goals of your investors.
What can a new owner/manager do? First, genuinely listen to your staff. Ask for their feedback and be open to hearing feedback that isn't necessarily complimentary to you. Second, share with them the vision and empower them to help match the successful culture (of the past) with the new culture. Third, if you ask them to do more, compensate them and be flexible. Service industry workers tend to be millennials and younger. Some value time, some value money, some need healthcare and retirement benefits, some want the opportunity to be promoted and others want a flexible schedule. Treat them with respect and pay them commensurate with what you compensate corporate management with. Remember, these are valuable employees that created a culture that made the business a success in the first place. In the words of Richard Branson, "Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients."
Change is difficult and a source of conflict for an organization going through a change. Leaders recognize when they are out of their element and need assistance. Yes, help is available. A conflict coach can support a manager who wants to improve his/her communication. A mediator can help 2 or more people problem solve. A communication consultant can offer training and team building to improve communication and reduce conflict.
This trend does concern me and while it isn't necessarily a phenomena, it impacts people close to me. With a vision that includes employee appreciation and an integrated conflict management plan, an organization can successfully go through change that is inclusive of the staff that helped make the business a success in the first place.
#smallbusiness #conflictmanagement #inclusion #employeeappreciation
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant