Q: I am a District Manager and Training Director for a company that owns and operates over 30 Subway Restaurants. I have taken the Humble, Hungry, Smart model and adapted it to our company when hiring new managers. I am trying to adjust it for hiring hourly employees (or Sandwich Artists), as well. Normally, these are teenagers with no work experience or adults with a lot of “hourly” work experience, most of the time starting at minimum wage.
Do you have any suggestions or has anyone else been successful in adapting this to the type of workforce I am hiring? Thanks in advance for any advice.
A: Wow. I love your question. I have a heart for these kinds of employees, the ones I believe deserve the most management attention and care. They are the ones who initially inspired me to write my book, The Truth About Employee Engagement. Let’s see.
I believe the humble, hungry and smart traits are universal. What I mean is that they can apply to any job or situation. However, what you should expect or require in an hourly employee is going to be a little, or perhaps a little more than a little, different than what you might expect from a manager. It’s not just a matter of pay, but of commitment and responsibility and, in the case of younger people, maturity.
So, what would humble, hungry and smart look like in the folks who make sandwiches for us at Subway?
Let’s start with humility. Most people who work the sandwich line at Subway are not going to be the classically arrogant or egotistical type. That isn’t to say that there will be none of these, just that there is a certain humility, and I’ll even say a noble one, in a person who is willing to take a job like that. But what you will find is the person who lacks humility in that they don’t understand or appreciate their gifts and talents. You’re more likely to find people who lack self-confidence and self-esteem, and these qualities, too, are signs of a lack of humility. Remember C.S. Lewis’ definition: humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less. I might suggest that you find employees who, in spite of their situation in life, know that they have something to offer. And then I would exhort and beg you and your managers to celebrate what they have to offer.
Hunger is probably what you want most of all. The challenge might be that people with an astounding work ethic might not be looking for jobs in quick service restaurants. I’ve found that this isn’t always the case. Take a look at Chick-fil-A. They have the most enthusiastic and friendly employees, and it’s not because they pay their people more than other restaurants. It’s the way they treat and manage them and come to expect great things from them. You can find hungry people for your restaurants, but here is the catch. If you’re tolerating non-hungry people now, hungry people are not going to want to work with them. You’ll have to change the culture, and that will attract the right people and repel the others. Based on my experience at the Subway restaurants near my home (my sons love the Meatball Marinara), employees there are less than enthusiastic about their work. But that’s not because of the work itself; it’s the culture.
Finally, there is smart. How high should you set the bar for emotional intelligence? Pretty high. But most important of all, it will probably need to be about customers. The people who work at Chick-fil-A are gregarious, cheerful and genuinely interested in the well-being of the people standing in front of them at the counter. They’re expected to be that way, which is why they like going to work, and why their shifts go by so fast. Compare that with an environment where employees are watching the clock, lamenting the difficult customer order, or wishing they were somewhere else, and you’ve got a different situation entirely.
Okay, the most important thing I can tell you is probably this: it’s going to come down to your managers. Teach them how to give their people the three things that all employees want more than anything: to be known by their manager, to understand how their work impacts the lives of others in some small way, and to know if they are doing a good job. Give those three things to your people, and they are going to enjoy their time at work whether they’re building bridges, teaching third graders, or making a fantastic Meatball Marinara sandwich.
Q: We love your work and really appreciate the support you give for “The Advantage” (and “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”) via The Hub.
We work with several large clients where (the lack of) accountability is a major problem from top to bottom. Top management laments that the people below lack accountability, yet display the same lack of it as those below. We have widely cautioned that there will be no accountability without consequence management—and those consequences need not always be negative. A failure may result in more or better training. Just teaching and coaching what accountability means and requires—for example, a clear agreement on the deliverables, timetable, resources, and so on can help. We encourage early renegotiation if the future completion date of a commitment is under threat and take lessons from John Kador’s “Effective Apology” where sincere contrition is required, but time after time we find an unwillingness and even blunt refusal to implement consequence management, especially when the failure is willful, negligent or out of ignorance, often fearing that employees will see disciplinary action, when necessary, as unfair or harsh. There is also a fear of the time it will take to implement the consequences—be it training or a long, bureaucratic disciplinary process. Some managers would rather put up with an underperforming employee than risk that the vacancy will not be filled quickly, leaving them short-handed or even filled at all in the current economic climate.
In your experience, can there be effective accountability where there is no consequence management? Any advice on how to build a culture of dealing with consequences that is embedded in the company DNA?
A: Thank you for your kind words. Now, to your question.
I think the best leader I’ve seen who understands accountability is Alan Mulally, the man who led the remarkable turnaround at Ford. He practiced and taught exactly what you are getting at. If you read the history of what happened at Ford, you’ll see that he had to get executives to stand up in front of their peers and admit that they were struggling so that the productive consequences could be meted out. Those consequences were almost always about how to fix a problem, rather than how to punish someone. As you said, until leaders practice this, they can complain about it not existing deeper in the organization all they want, but nothing will change.
As Alan used to say at his weekly meetings, “hey, we need to know if your area is struggling so that we can spend the next week improving it. We’re all going to be here next week anyway.” In other words, it was about identifying issues rather than assigning blame.
At the same time, if someone could not perform over time, or more importantly, if their behavior didn’t align with what the company expected of them, then Alan would step in and hold them accountable, but in the most positive, joyful way. As a result, he fired very few people. But he did help many others decide on their own that it was time to go elsewhere.
Accountability is a tricky thing. The key is to remember that it is in everyone’s best interest—the company’s, the manager’s, and the employee’s.
Q: I’m curious about best practices for cascading “The Advantage” throughout an entire organization—time spent on Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, playbooks, etc.
I’m also curious about how widespread the sharing of playbooks happens, including the personal information about strengths and areas for development.
A: This is a great, and involved, question. Where to start?
Okay, the best way to cascade the concepts from The Advantage throughout an organization is to ensure that they are deeply utilized in the first two levels of management. If the CEO and his or her team are living the concepts of organizational health, and they are insisting that their teams are doing the same, it will be almost impossible to prevent it from taking root throughout the organization. Whenever I hear leaders complain that “middle management” isn’t doing what they’re supposed to, I almost always find that the executive team isn’t properly managing the next level below them.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that rather than focusing on some systematic approach for rolling out the use of playbooks and thematic goals, it will be far more important to ensure that the people at the top two levels are really on board. Having said that, I certainly support the notion of purchasing a copy of The Advantage, and for that matter, all of my other books, for every single employee in the organization. Just kidding.
When it comes to the five dysfunctions, I think that every level of a company can and will benefit from work in this area. But again, what is most important is that leaders at the top are living the five behaviors themselves and that they are quick to address any dysfunctions when they see them surface.
As for sharing the contents of the playbook, I’m a believer that it is better to over-share than to under-share. The fear leaders have of too many people having access to information is almost always outweighed by the benefits of transparency and trust.
Finally, when it comes to personal information about strengths and weaknesses, it’s most important for leaders to share that information with the people who work directly for them. Letting your direct reports know what you are good at and what you struggle with is like giving them a cheat sheet about how to be successful, and how to coach upward.
That’s a relatively long answer to a multi-faceted question.