A Lesson from IHOP

As I have traveled to plants over the last few months, I see a few common themes in these communities.  One of these themes is a general need for employees and short staffing at all the hotels and restaurants. 

Recently, I went to an IHOP early one morning before a plant visit and saw a note on the door referring to “Help Wanted – Short Staffed”.  I immediately set my expectations pretty low for this visit and went on in anyway.  Over the next few minutes though, I was shocked at the engagement level and energy of the two ladies working the dining area.  While they were obviously short staffed, they were pleasant, engaging, very customer focused, and doing a great job!  I overheard one of them explaining to a customer that the restaurant was out of a few key items, but she suggested alternatives and seemed to appease the customer just fine.  I also overheard one of the waitresses ask a customer if they wanted more coffee only for the customer say they were going to Starbucks for some really “good” coffee on their way out of town.  The waitress was awesome!  She not only replied how much she liked Starbucks too, but gave them directions to the one in town that would have the shortest line early in the morning. 

I couldn’t help but see the similarities here in some of the challenges we face – short staffing/need people – not having key materials that our customers want/need – customers being somewhat difficult, etc.   I have no idea why these ladies were responding so positively to these challenges, but I can tell you it impacted everyone in that restaurant.  Their response to the challenges established the culture.  While they were efficient and pleasant, they never rushed nor appeared to be in a hurry.  The service was outstanding to say the least!

I couldn’t help but sit in the car and reflect on this experience.  I have often let circumstances and other people impact my attitude and ultimately my leadership of others.  I have often played the blame game and just let the challenges/obstacles dictate the results.  What I/we need to realize is that sometimes, we are the real problem!

When I say we (the leader) could be the problem is not to diminish the significance of the challenges we face, but rather highlight the need for us (the leaders) to take action and not just accept things we don’t want for our teams/organizations.

For instance, if we have prolonged attendance issues, what are we doing about it?  If we have folks not showing up at key times, what are we doing about it?  Are we taking the time to educate and inform our people from the onboarding process all the way through their employment time of the importance of being at work and what that means for the overall job security in the plant?  Have we really taken the time to explain why engagement in safety is the most important commitment an employee can make?  Have we really taken time to inform/teach our folks why quality checks are really an investment in their jobs (taking care of customers)?  Have we really taught our folks why all those elements of a solid reliability system create a better work environment for everyone?

What I am asking you to consider, are you taking the time to build a team or just telling people what they need to do?  Supervisors and managers tell people “what” all day long.  That’s fine and needed.  Leaders take the next step and explain “why”; why it matters to each team member.  So often we just turn to discipline as our only avenue to change or deal with undesirable behaviors.  While there is a place for discipline, if we are going to change culture, we are going to have to build a team and get buy-in from our folks.  If our only plan is discipline, get ready to do that for the rest of your time in the role.  Culture change takes an investment of time by the leader.  While we won’t win everyone over, we can impact the majority through targeted leadership focused on “why”.

So next time you think about pancakes, stop and evaluate your approach to challenges, building teams, and taking complete ownership of your area of influence.  Lastly, remember, “I” might just be the problem and do something about it!

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