Orderly progression

I’ve been getting quite a few requests for advice on structuring the development of subordinates from hospitality business owners recently. Interestingly, even though I’ve been in my own training business for eleven years now, I didn’t get many of these requests until a few years ago.

Perhaps this is evidence of the development of professional management career paths within the smaller, private sections of our industry. Restaurants and smaller hotels have traditionally shied away from the kind of personal development available in the big hotels and corporate catering companies, because of the perception that training and development is expensive or that they can operate without it.

For those of you who are interested in the subject, I can best illustrate the principles of management development by following the career of a hypothetical person I’ll call Jim. Lets assume Jim enters the industry after completing secondary school or college, and that he has had some experience as a waiter. He wants a career in hospitality management.

The first, and obvious thing we have to do is to give Jim the basic technical skills he needs to be productive within our business while we develop him for higher duties. We also need to give him a thorough understanding of the business and how the various sections work and relate to each other, so he needs to be cross exposed to experience a variety of different jobs.

Cross exposure might involve starting in the front of house as a waiter to learn customer service and selling skills, moving into the bar to learn beverage skills and then into the kitchen as a kitchen hand or cook for a period of time to learn food production skills. By the time Jim reaches management he should be familiar with all of the activities he has to manage.

He doesn’t necessarily have to be proficient at every job, but he does have to have a basic understanding of the requirements of each job and an appreciation for the normal stresses in each section and between the sections. I often strike managers who don’t understand sections of their business and who get ‘hoodwinked’ by their senior staff — especially by Chefs. Early cross exposure and a thorough grounding in your business basics will prevent this.

If Jim handles these roles effectively, his next role should be that of departmental trainer, where he will be responsible for induction and skills training of all new staff within a department. This is a very handy developmental role because it requires analytical and communication skills similar to those of a supervisor, without the stress of total responsibility. We would give him a Train-the-Trainer course or similar at this point. If Jim handles this responsibility well, he qualifies for further development; if he doesn’t, his career stalls right there.

My logic is quite simple. All advancement beyond this point requires team supervision and team development skills. Supervisors and managers have to be able to train, or they will not be very effective in any senior role. If our boy Jim can’t demonstrate good training skills he is extremely unlikely to be effective in a leadership role. A surprising number of people scrub themselves out of management at this point.

Assuming he does a good job training, we would now advance him to a supervisory position and place him in charge of a team. He’s now got to learn team building and leadership skills. Logic suggests that we should prepare Jim by training him in recruitment and leadership before we promote him, but I’ve found that you will get a better result if you wait till he’s been in the job for about six months before you try to train him.

We’ve noticed that newly appointed supervisors tend to come to training with an ‘attitude’. They often act as if they’re God’s gift to the industry and totally bulletproof, and they can see no need to learn — after all, they don’t understand the pressures of their new job yet. It’s better to wait till they are up to their necks in crocodiles and struggling before offering them appropriate training — they’ll come along with an entirely different attitude then; you’re throwing them a life preserver and they’ll grab it with both hands.

Supervisors must be taught how to run a business on a day to day basis and should be able to handle all the issues necessary to achieve this, including hiring, termination and discipline; stock control, cash control, purchasing, etc. At some stage all supervisors should spend time in the administration section of the business learning how the accounting and payroll are processed. Again, they need to understand this aspect of a business if they are going to manage successfully. An ‘apprenticeship’ in supervision can last up to five years, depending on the complexity of the business and the aptitude of the supervisor.

Then comes the hard bit. The transition from supervisor to manager is a difficult one for most people to handle, because it involves letting go of the day to day leadership of the business or department and learning to be responsible for business growth, human resources development, marketing and financial control. I believe on the job experience should be supplemented with a series of external short courses in the management skills. Because of the complexity of these skills, we’ve found the best way to train someone is to do it in digestible chunks, while the person is in charge of a real business and has the opportunity to convert ‘theory’ to practice.

Personally, I’m not too keen on three or four year intensive tertiary courses in management because I think 90% of management is learned by managing.