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Serving up Humble, Hungry, Smart

Employee Engagement

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.