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Supervisors are the core of your business

In fulfilling my occupation I have the privilege of looking at the inner workings of many different hospitality businesses. We work with the complete spectrum — from fast food to five star. After forty five years in hospitality management I have come to some important conclusions about the key issues that make for business success.

Why are your supervisors so important?

The attention you pay to the creation of a strong, well structured supervisory team is one of these key issues. Think about it for a moment — what do (or should) your supervisors control?

In simplistic terms, your supervisors control the staff who earn you your income and who create most of your costs. They really hold the economic efficiency of your business in the palm of their hands — a well trained supervisor will contribute a great deal to your business, while a poor one will cost you a fortune. This probably sounds logical when put this way, but out there in the real world I see so many examples of ill equipped supervisory staff that I feel the need to go on a mission.

A restaurant supervisor runs shifts and is responsible for staff productivity

Give them authority and responsibility

A supervisor is a team leader. Consider the authority and responsibility you need to give a team leader in order to hold them accountable for the performance of their team.

For a start they have to have a right of veto somewhere in your recruitment process, otherwise they have the very handy excuse: ‘I didn’t choose them; it’s not my fault’. This leads us to the necessity of them having some core skills in basic recruitment and selection, otherwise they will have to learn by a process of trial and error, for which you will bear the terrible cost.

Next, they need to be held accountable for the induction and skills training within their team, or you will get the parallel, and equally handy excuse: ‘I didn’t train them; it’s not my fault’. In my mind, good training skills are a prerequisite for any advancement beyond floor level. How can you ensure the productivity of a team if you can’t train?

They control staff productivity

Kitchen Supervisor
In the kitchen your supervisors are Chefs de Partie and Junior Sous

Recruitment and training skills are all about constructing effective teams, but what about ensuring the productivity and quality performance of the team once it has been established? Here’s where basic leadership skills of communication, motivation, coaching, counselling and discipline come in to the equation, but not everyone is equipped to take on these skills. We still get a fair selection of really submissive people and people with an overwhelming need to be liked sent to us for supervisory training, and there’s not much you can do with them. You can’t turn hamburger into fillet steak.

Legalities and other issues

We all now face the added complication of having to recruit, train and lead staff in a legal and industrial minefield, which can have nasty ramifications in the form of unfair dismissal claims, harassment claims, WorkCare claims or union action. The people who control your teams need to have an understanding of the rules or you stand a good chance of ending-up with a very expensive situation on your hands.

They control sales and cost efficiency

Supervisors are there to keep sales from outweighing costs

Most importantly, your supervisors lead the staff who do all your selling and provide your customer service, therefore they control your customer average spend and a large part of your customers’ perception of your business (and therefore repeat trade). We see lots of managers who can plainly see the urgent need to improve these aspects of their business, but who are frustrated in moving forward because they have to work through supervisors who are incapable of doing what is required.

To complete the financial picture, your supervisors control your wage costs, your cost-of-sales, and a fair proportion of your controllable overheads. So, if they control both your income and most of your costs, surely they are the key to your profit margin? I think so.

You may be a business manager or owner reading this and saying to yourself: ‘That Eldred doesn’t know what he is talking about. I’ve got a good business and I don’t make my supervisors do all that stuff — I do most of it myself’. That’s OK, as long as you don’t want to take holidays, are content with a small profit margin and you are happy with being a small business for the rest of your days.

You might need to review your business structure

It’s all a matter of good business structure. A disturbing percentage of the managers in this industry spend their time pushing their supervisors to one side and directly selecting and leading the bottom line staff. In other words they call themselves managers but function as supervisors. Meanwhile there is no business plan, marketing plan, human resource systems, financial control systems, etc, in place. Without these things in place the manager becomes trapped into a semi hands-on role from which there is little chance of escape.

This is often the symptom of making a basic managerial mistake and promoting your best waiter or cook to supervisor and finding that you have lost your best waiter or cook and gained an ineffective supervisor. Then you get relentlessly drawn downward to rectify the shortcomings in your supervisory structure and slowly sink into day-to-day supervision instead of looking ahead and working on your business, not in it.

A good manager should concentrate a substantial proportion of their attention into creating and maintaining a solid, skilled supervisory structure. There is obviously an up-front cost in doing this, but the payback is impressive, both in financial terms and in quality of life for the owner/manager concerned.

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