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Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers

Holding on to High Performers

It’s true. The priorities, engagement level, and sometimes even quality of employment candidates has changed significantly over the past decade. How potential team members perceive things like job value, work ethic and company loyalty is significantly different than in years and generations past. There are a lot more restaurants in the marketplace and therefore many more jobs, options and competition for potential team members. They can easily perceive that restaurant jobs are a dime a dozen …and they’d be right. There are very few restaurant jobs that, if lost, could not be replaced for a team member within 24 hours. In these highly competitive times, everybody is always hiring.

It's no secret that our industry has been undergoing many changes over the past several years. Market factors are ever changing, guest expectations and tastes are evolving, how we connect with customers is a continually moving target, and with each change it has become more difficult to make a buck. Among this constant flurry of change, however, one challenge in particular frustrates the vast majority of restaurant operators with whom I come in contact more than all others put together … finding and keeping good people for their teams. We are in the midst of a labor crisis.

So the question is, if some candidates place very little inherent value in the restaurant job itself, how can we create enough value around the position so that they want to keep it? In reality, there is not a labor crisis; there is a retention crisis. If you never lost anyone, you wouldn’t have to spend all of your time recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training (and recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training … and recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training, etc.).

How can we make sure our best people stick around? While compensation undoubtedly plays a very important role in recruiting, many managers tend to overestimate its value on retaining high performers. In fact, there are many more effective ways they can be holding on to top talent … the most powerful of which is “manager quality.” That’s right. Retention starts with you and the kind of leader you are. To motivate and maintain key performers on your team, you have to look no further than the behaviors you exhibit.

“It pays to keep them happy and engaged for as long as possible, and it should be one of your primary daily focuses.”

Most research indicates that the traits that most influence high performers’ satisfaction with their managers are:

  • placing a high priority on the personal
  • development of team members
  • reward and recognition
  • being a career champion
  • behaving with passion and integrity
  • creating an environment of meticulous team accountability (particularly for low performers)

Your high performers are your most valuable business resource. Some studies indicate that one high performer can contribute up to 400% more than a low performing team member. These are the team members that bring the most value to your business, your team and your customers. It pays to keep them happy and engaged for as long as possible, and it should be one of your primary daily focuses. Here are some ways to make sure your superstars stick around:

1. Make sure they know how much they’re appreciated.

One of the main reasons high performers leave is that they don’t feel recognized or valued. Make sure your high performers know how much you value them and their contributions. Speak very specifically about how their good work positively impacts the team and the restaurant. This means more than the occasional “atta-boy/girl.” It means being very specific about what they’re doing right and why it matters. For example, “The way you handled that customer complaint really impressed me! You not only found a solution that made them happy, you actually did it in a way that enhanced their whole experience and made them even bigger fans of ours … and that’s really hard to do. Thank you!” If you can say these things in front of other team members, all the better.

2. Make Rewards Count.

While annual bonuses or awards are nice, don’t wait until the end of the year to reward performance. Rewards don’t need to be big, expensive, or even monetary … but they should be immediate, appropriate and personal. A personal note can have a much larger impact than a plaque or certificate. Getting out of work a little early on a day when your team member may have a lot on their personal plate is appreciated and remembered. If you’re not sure what your key performers value most, ask them … then use that personal knowledge when offering motivational rewards.

3. Make Sure They Keep Growing.

High performers like to feel like they’re continually learning, growing and expanding their knowledge and skills. A big reason these team members excel is that they’re smart and curious …and they can become bored and lose interest when these traits go unsatisfied. Too often that boredom leads to the exit door. To prevent this, provide them with interesting ways to do more. Need ideas on how to cut costs or waste? Offer this as an assignment to these folks. Need someone to represent your business at a neighborhood meeting or local non-profit organization? Send in these key players. At the very least, have ways for them to keep growing through training. Offer multi-tiered certifications on their own job or allow them to train and certify on someone else’s.

4. Communicate Clear Advancement Pathways.

Clearly communicating to your high performers that they’ll have opportunities to move up in your organization and what those opportunities look like is crucial to holding on to them. If they don’t clearly see a future with your company, are unsure how to advance, or think they’ll have to wait too long to do so, they’ll look for those opportunities outside of your organization. Sit down with them and chart a very specific career plan with well- defined milestones, observable behaviors, training and assessments along the way.

5. Conduct ‘Stay’ Interviews.

Instead of assuming that a high performer is happy in his or her work and intends to stay forever, make sure you’re doing the things that will assure that. Take the time to sit down with your key contributors (maybe over lunch or coffee), and specifically ask. Say things like “You are absolutely critical to our team’s success. What can we do to make sure you stick around for the next two years?” Use any information they give you to influence and inform how you lead them (and other high performers). Even if you don’t come up with specific, actionable ideas, the very fact that you asked this question will communicate to your key players that you care about them, are interested in their employment experience, and want them to stay.

6. Model Appropriate Behavior.

Most people don’t commit to a brand or organization, and they certainly don’t quit them. People commit to the people and culture in an organization … and when they leave, they quit bosses, not businesses. Team members are most happy and engaged when they’re able to become an integral part of their work team, when they feel like a part of a community, and are immersed in its culture. Communicate very clearly your company’s values, then display them meticulously every moment of every day.

“People commit to the people and culture in an organization … and when they leave, they quit bosses, not businesses.”


06 01 finders keepers 1Curating and maintaining top talent may be the single most effective thing you can do to grow your business and dramatically increase profits. In addition to the obvious fact that having a team filled with engaged, motivated high performers will create an environment where sales are high, quality is omnipresent, and customers are happy, you literally cannot afford to lose focus on this crucial skill.

When you lose even one high performer, you lose a lot more than a name on the schedule. If you’re not good at keeping quality talent on your team, it can cost you much more — up to and including your business.


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