Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan and His Advice on Reinvigorating the Workforce

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For those who don’t already know him, Jim Sullivan (CEO, Sullivision.com, USA) has long been one of the industry’s top drawing speakers and a sought-after consultant.  His books have sold more than 650,000 copies worldwide and his client list reads like an industry who’s-who, including companies like Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney Company, American Express, McDonald’s, Panera Bread and Apple.  I’ve long held Jim in high regard and am excited to share with you some of his thoughts on this important subject.

Interview with Jim Sullivan

Following are my questions and Jim Sullivan’s advice on the subject of reinvigorating the workforce as a means of boosting restaurant revenue:

Jim Sullivan

1. What’s your assessment of the general state of the industry for staff morale? Of course, it varies by organization and isn’t a one-size-fits-all, but based on your wide industry exposure are there any universal observations you can share about where we stand today?

Industry-wide, morale is not as good as it was yesterday but it can be a whole lot better tomorrow. If executive teams/ operators would stay committed to hiring “A” players for their hourly crews that would be a huge start. Then they’d have to make certain their management team was sharp and talented. Stars don’t work for idiots.

2. How can operators assess their own situation and quantify the esprit de corps?

By being able to answer “yes” to the Big 3 questions: Are you meeting and exceeding your goals? Is customer traffic up from last year? Is team turnover less than 20%?

3. What are the hidden costs of uninspired employees and low staff morale? Can you help put a business case on the importance of reinvigorating the workforce as a means of also helping boost revenues?

“Labor” is not your biggest controllable cost, turnover is. Reinvigorate a workforce three ways: 1) hire and develop outstanding managers who have a knack for inspiration, discipline and accountability, 2) prune the deadwood, 3) teach everyone something new every shift.

4. What guidance would you offer an operator endeavoring to build a merit-based reward and recognition system – not just for the line level staff but for all levels of the organization?

In my experience, “carrots” don’t work. They reinforce only the employees who are already the most engaged and productive in your restaurant or store. Plus most operators create programs that reward individual accomplishment while they preach the importance of teamwork. You’re better off creating a stronger culture in which low performance is simply not an option. To paraphrase Paul Marciano: “Recognition and reward programs fail because they are programs.” These programs rarely lead to long-term sustainable behavioral change because they don’t impact organizational culture. Reward programs are little more than camouflage for ineffective management. If you want to truly motivate your performers to do better, hold those who are not doing their job accountable. Do you want to know what “Quality” is? Conformance to requirements.

5. How do you align shift-minded staff with long-range company goals?

You hire only people with an affinity for learning. Then you teach them something new each and every shift. Then you share your company’s progress and goals every quarter with a State-of-the-Restaurant address to the team.

6. How do you recommend sorting out who to keep, who terminate, and who to promote?

Restaurateurs who complain about the quality if their teams are like someone who’s sitting on a stove and complaining that their ass is burning. Do something about it. Give a lot, expect a lot, and if you don’t get it, prune.

7. How are new technologies and the rise of Millennials changing industry training and people-development in your opinion?

Technology has already transformed ordering, scheduling, backoffice systems and marketing. The biggest impact area of opportunity now is in training. We need to align the way we train to how Millennials live and interact online. Gen Next prefers to create content instead of just consuming it. So training needs to become more collaborative and leverage technology better. Many of our hourly team members – because of technology and the supercomputer in their phones – can in fact be better informed or have access to better information than the trainer does. Food service trainers today have to get caught up to their trainees technology-wise and mindset-wise. This is very different from the past where trainees had to get caught up to their trainers. The Internet teaches us to avoid the margin-to-margin text of the “training manual” and educate instead via info-nuggets, chunked information and just-on-time training that iPod Generation learners can easily digest and even improve upon by contributing their own experience to the content. I watch how industries awash in cash– like insurance companies, healthcare and hedge funds–train their young people because they can afford to pioneer methodologies that will soon be commonplace for food service companies.

8. What are the emerging trends and some of your predictions for executives to consider as they build their workforce development plans for the future?

Spend more time scaling successes than you do solving problems. Identify pockets of exceptional performance throughout your company and think about ways you can duplicate that success. Make tacit knowledge explicit across your organization. Don’t benchmark other great companies until you benchmark your own.

9. Are there any new tools, companies or websites you have found lately that you think the industry should know about?

I am impressed with the growing groundswell of support and participation that Twitter is seeing among food service operators. I am there daily (@Sullivision) to contribute and gain insight into articles, blogs and websites that I never would have learned about without Tweets. Beyond that, at the risk of sounding self-serving, I’d suggest your readers check out my blogs, articles and videos at www.sullivision.com where we regularly detail fun and effective new sites and tools that help food service operators improve their people, performance and profits.

10. I understand you have a new book coming out. What can you tell us about it and where our readers go to buy it?

It’s called Fundamentals: 9 Ways to Be Brilliant at the New Basics of Business. It covers business basics for the Digital Age leader and reader in a fun design. It’s chockablock-full of great content, ideas, expertise and insight. Fundamentals will be available on the Sullivision.com website in late August and at Amazon and bookstores in September. Read it and reap!

11. You write extensively about leadership and your products are all about developing leaders. What are the three key things that great leaders do?


They take control of what controls their time, they focus on being effective not efficient, and they regularly read industry and non-industry business books, blogs and interviews of thought leaders. Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.

To contact Jim Sullivan, please visit his website or on Twitter.

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