We get asked to preside over the revitalising of quite a few hospitality businesses. It’s an interesting and stimulating process for me. I’ve being doing it for thirty years now and feel that I’ve got the process pretty well worked-out. Every business is different, but the same general rules and principles apply and we keep striking the same issues again and again.
On the surface the procedure I follow to ‘renovate’ businesses seems deceptively simple; it has three main phases: (a) get the structure of the business right; (b) get the management and staff right; (c) then watch the rest of the business sort itself out from there. Unfortunately the first two steps are nowhere as straight forward as they might seem.
Organisation structure comes first
Getting the structure of a business right can be a nightmare. It’s one thing to design a nice, workable organisational chart and a comprehensive set of job descriptions showing the correct responsibilities and ratio between staff, supervisors and managers — it’s another thing entirely getting people to follow through with what has been designed, discussed and agreed.
Getting the business owner(s) to stick to the responsibilities they agree to is usually the first big obstacle. They’ve often been quite undisciplined in their leadership and have been used to involving themselves in every area of their business and dealing directly with all their staff, as and when they see fit. This is called the ‘small business owners syndrome’, and is OK while you only have four or five staff, but highly counterproductive in a larger business with fifteen, twenty or more staff.
The fun starts when we tell the owner that the staff no longer work for them — the staff now work for their supervisors, and now they must work through their hierarchy and deal with the staff via their supervisors. Some owners find this horribly difficult, but it’s necessary if you think about it — to get excellent results and make people accountable you have to stop the staff from getting conflicting instructions from different people — ‘everyone must only dance to one master’.
Competent supervisors are the key
All too often I find supervisory staff who have no clear authority, no power to hire and fire, who are bypassed by the owners and managers on a daily basis and who are held accountable for the results of their team. Why have supervisory staff in the first place if you’re not going to let them be your team leaders? You wouldn’t buy a dog then stand in the back yard and bark — so why call somebody a manager or a supervisor and then override all their decisions and interfere with their day-to-day organisation? If they’re not capable of running their team, you’ve chosen the wrong supervisors.
I’ve always believed that if we give supervisors the responsibility of doing everything necessary to run their small team — such as recruiting, training, cost control, etc; they build valuable skills in bite sized, easily digestible chunks. If we call them supervisors but don’t make them accountable, the next step — i.e. up to manager — becomes far too big and we risk them failing and losing confidence, or worse still, wrecking a part of the business.
Stepping back is scary but necessary
So, for us to restructure a business properly, we have to make the owner take the scary step of backing off and let the staff try to do what they are supposed to do. The staff don’t always succeed. This quickly leads us into the next step — getting the people right.
As soon as the owner backs off, it becomes obvious which staff rise to the occasion and which staff don’t. The ones who don’t must be counselled, offered training and, if necessary, replaced. This is easier said than done if the people concerned are faithful, long serving staff (as they often are). Inexperienced business owners and managers have a nasty habit of promoting their best staff to supervisors and ending-up losing their best staff and gaining their worst supervisors. This comes from not recognising that skills required by a team leader are quite different to the skills required by the members of the team. We’re often the ones who have to do the ‘dirty work’ and replace these people.
Another common problem we strike is having to sort out what we call an ‘unbalanced’ management or supervisory team. A recent assignment we had was a good illustration of this: All three senior managers of a large hospitality business were extremely disorganised, and displayed a complete aversion to planning and following through with anything long term. We got nowhere with the business until we removed one of the senior managers and replaced them with a manager who was a strong planner and organiser. As a direct result of consistent leadership the staff came alive and the business is in growth mode after a long period of stagnation.
I doesn’t matter if you don’t have all the skills necessary for management as long as you recognise your weaknesses and recruit people underneath you who are strong in the areas you are weak, and then let those people do what they’re good at. There’s nothing more frustrating to us than ineffective leaders who think they are good when they’re not.
On the contrary, I’ve even seen some pretty ordinary people become very successful leaders by delegating nearly everything to capable subordinates. Balance in a team is everything. Somehow all the key skills — strategic, artistic, leadership, technical, administrative and marketing — need to be present before a business will prosper. They don’t have to be at the top, providing the top person will listen and defer to other people.
With a structured, balanced team, full of the right people, success is almost automatic.