People: The secret sauce in the food industry

Through my career, I’ve studied people productivity both supervised and unsupervised with a singular purpose: To understand the impact that mindful presence has on converting business vision to reality, day after day

Updated: Sep 13, 2019 03:31:35 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

It was my first on-the-job stint at a five star while studying hotel management, and I was about to get my first lesson on why the food business is called the people business.

The tick-tock of her heels through the hotel corridors had everyone in the banquet department suddenly standing more upright, appearing more purposeful and generally scurrying around to put things in place as they were meant to be. After her inspection... some corrected, some chided and on rare occasions even complimented; the sound of her heels faded away and a distinct sigh of relief heard from the team.

Since then, through my career, I’ve studied people productivity both supervised and unsupervised with a singular purpose: To understand the impact that mindful presence has on converting business vision to reality, day after day.

It’s tough enough nowadays to attract and retain good talent in the sector. One must also evaluate “affordability” of people in relation to their performance. A financially affordable person performing poorly is actually quite unaffordable; while an “expensive” one who performs well, is inevitably affordable.

Over time, I’ve realised that to execute business vision, since I can’t be present 24x7, my own measure for success in the people department must be how well teams perform in my absence and in the absence of their other leaders, i.e. unsupervised.

While hiring, I look at 3 things – integrity, attitude and skill, in that order; because I can teach skill completely, attitude partially, but integrity... not at all.

I find that after screening through these three filters, giving employees what they expect and creating a good work environment usually leads to more engaged employees, thus more unsupervised productivity and mindful presence.SM_Food-Industry_shutterstock_758464381What the employee expects
• Fair treatment: A no tolerance policy towards abuse of any sort, known to happen in the industry. • Equitable pay: High wages don’t necessarily satisfy employees, but low wages certainly dissatisfy them.
• Reasonable hours: While some are still willing to work long hours for overtime, or do break-shifts e.g. 11am to 3pm – break – 7pm to 11pm; bringing in a good amount of straight shifts as well, e.g. 3pm to midnight, helps.
• Staff welfare: Basic safety – tested equipment, fire exits, etc.; good staff meals on time preferably before feeding guests, employee insurance, etc.
• Growth opportunities: Succession planning at all levels helps create a talent pool within, and is in the organisations own interest.
• Meaningful work: A sense of purposefulness gives each employee a depth to their responsibility and accountability.

Some components of a good work environment
• Clear directives: Frequent communication of expectations that are achievable and practical
• Adequate resources: The best that can be provided to each employee to support their deliverables
• Reward & recognition: For good work and initiative taken, people must be acknowledged through announcements, and where possible, financially as well
• Learning & development: Training programs for knowledge building that eventually lead to promotion opportunities.
• Fair decisions: Being fair and being “seen as fair” by the team are both equally critical.
• Empower and incentivise: Encourage each team member to take independent actions that can contribute towards tangible achievement of business goals; offer financial and other incentives to ignite initiative.

An employee who drives the initiatives he’s responsible for, both mindfully and unsupervised is an intrapreneur, who can lead his area of the business’ vision to reality. Creating many such intrapreneurs within, makes for a business’ success.

For that final edge, you’ll need to bring in yet another, special ingredient.

The special ingredient of the food industry
I’ve served and been served by innumerable hospitality people across the globe, yet only a handful stand out as exceptional.

I can never forget those people and those brands, and I will patronise and recommend them as often as possible. What they all have in common is what we in India call “Seva”, a Sanskrit word describing the act of “selfless service”.

Professional service, however elaborately done, is inevitably in exchange for some sort of personal reward.

These incredible people however, whether entrepreneurs or the junior-most servers, put themselves so completely into the act of desire-less service, that you knew they would have served you with as much love and attention, as they would have even if they earned nothing in return... except for that feeling of fulfillment you get when serving another without an agenda.

Now imagine, if some people you hire were to have that true spirit of Seva at their core. How much more powerful your work culture and your guest experience would be and what it could do for your business goals.

Ready to find such people for your team, but not sure how? Khalil Gibran has a possible clue—“To understand the heart and mind of a person look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to”.

The author is Founder & CEO Phoenix Consulting, a business consulting firm offering start-up, developmental & turnaround assistance to entrepreneurs in the trade.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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