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  • John Reese

Alignment is Everything

“We’re just trying to survive,” my peer overheard her server say in response to a customer’s protestations at COVID protocols and the limited menu offerings—not exactly the ideal response, but hey, is there a more truthful message to give customers? Our industry was broken before, then COVID came along and blasted open the cracks so that any dysfunction was glaring. Up to 60% of restaurants, mostly independents, will close by the end of the year. Total shit storm and such a crying shame. Mostly undeserved, but this current reality is what will shape a new order. But first, we must get through the disorder stage.


In previous posts, I outlined the fundamental approach I recommend. It reflects my default response to chaos – review and update vision, guiding principles, the primary focus, long and medium-term objectives. Then review and commit to establishing annual and quarterly priorities. This tidy package is my “Square One Fundamentals”. It ' a solid foundation for rallying your team.


The big caveat here is that while this approach helps you think about the way forward, it's not worth its salt if you don’t make the constant effort to bring all stakeholders along for the ride. Without buy-in, alignment and engagement with culture, direction and specific goals, you're going nowhere fast. Senior leadership and ownership can waste time and resources dreaming up the best path if they are not embraced by the key players. I have seen this happen often. How are we to get out of this mess when over 50% of people are disengaged from their jobs, just putting in the time and not participating.


In Jim Collins speak, you need to have the "right people in the right seats on the bus". "Right seats", of course, refers to establishing the structure and roles needed to move the plan forward. "Right people" speaks to attitude, alignment with values, vision and goals. If your people do not live your culture and actively support the business objectives and put them into action, your culture will become toxic and your team will work at cross-purposes.


How do we get these right people on the right path, working toward mutually agreed upon goals?


First off, it requires a ton of work, guided by a fundamental commitment to opening up the process and your business to those who work in it. Messaging must be clear, consistent and repeated over and over until the plan is grasped. An old cliché says that one must repeat oneself seven times before the message fully registers. It's one reason why we repeatedly hear and see the same marketing messages. We may listen, but it takes repetition to truly hear. This repetitive process is frustrating, no doubt, and most people do give up rather than accept the discipline.


Secondly, leaders must be willing to ask for feedback regularly and be seen acting on it. If your key people are to embrace your plan, goals and targets, they must be given the opportunity to participate in the process and contribute to the outcome. From there, you can really begin to rally your team around the way forward in the new order of things.


How do we get there?


Share, set clear expectations, delegate, empower, follow up, follow up, follow up and follow up some more. Set in stone your commitment to communication, including quarterly meetings that make known the state of things along with your annual and quarterly objectives. Your team has to know what is going on and support the direction. Commit to quarterly coaching and development conversations with each team member, along with the guarantee of a one-on-one each month. Your HR Process – recruit, hire, train, promote, discipline, dismiss – must be heavily weighted toward cultural alignment, not industry experience.


Post your vision, guiding principles, and primary focus for your team. Put up your quarterly objectives in the back of house and regularly discuss them with the team in daily huddles or pre-shift briefings. Your business becomes an open book, to gain clarity, to invite participation, to influence and to educate.


There's no magic bullet for gaining alignment and engagement with culture, direction and objectives. This commitment becomes part of how you do business. With discipline, you will see improved morale, productivity and results… and everyone will have a lot more fun!


Until next time!

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