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How smart is your business?

The old command control style of management doesn't work anymore. Giving orders and entrenching yourself is dangerous. Most successful companies learn fast and learn well. If you're not learning as fast as your competition, you'll be left in the dust.

The old command control style of management just doesn't work anymore. Giving orders and entrenching yourself is dangerous. Most successful companies learn fast and learn well. If you're not learning as fast as your competition, you'll be left in the dust.

What do I mean by learning? Creating a learning workplace involves building the skills, talents, and competencies of every one of your employees...bussers, dishwashers, servers and chefs alike.

We're accustomed to upgrading our computer software, our cars, and our stock portfolio (if we're lucky). So why do we stop upgrading our own professional knowledge and skills?

As a leader, your job is to create a restaurant environment that encourages — even requires — your employees to continually learn and grow. This is why your training system, or more accurately, your retraining system is so important. The most productive time and money you invest in your business will come from developing the skills of your employees. But it doesn't have to cost a fortune. It may be as simple providing the time and space to let training and development take place.

There are many ways to do this:

  • Share information from the web (how about this web site!), newspapers or trade magazines. Particularly valuable information can be photocopied, passed around, and even kept for training new hires.
  • Let employees attend a local seminar or workshop on food safety, customer service or culinary trends. Don't have many to choose from? How about conducting one yourself. Your floor managers can give superior service demonstrations, your chef can teach food safety, or you can demonstrate and explain the many opportunities for a career in foodservice.
  • Make your distributor's food show a superior learning experience, not just a opportunity to sample free food. How?
    • Formalize your expectations of your employees by giving them specific expectations and provide a form for them to summarize their findings.
    • Send managers, supervisors or top employees to the educational seminars during the show. Ask them to share the highlights of what they learned at a meeting.
    • Challenge your kitchen staff—line and prep cooks — to develop a new "menu item" from a unique product they find. Have them present the item to other staff members for comments, feedback and pricing suggestions. 

The goal is to create the time and proper environment for people to learn. Opportunities abound. It's easy and inexpensive to demonstrate to your employees that there is a real industry and career path available to them.

And keep in mind that learning doesn't last as long as it used to. According to the National Research Council, it used to take 7 to 14 years for 50% of a worker's skills to become obsolete. Now it takes only 3 to 5 years! If we want to compete against the best, we'd better get cracking.

The best way to make sure that the hard-learned skills don't go to waste is to make sure that they are put to use an a regular basis. Repetition and reinforcement are key to retention. So is the challenge of teaching skills or knowledge to others. Take five minutes out of your pre-shift meeting for one employee to teach the "class." Assign the task of finding and sharing an interesting article, fact or skill on customer service, food and beverage or the industry in general.

To get you started, we've created a ready-to-use exercise . I know you'll be surprised at how managing becomes easier when your workplace becomes smarter. You'll reap the rewards of high employee retention rates, great customer satisfaction, and a big boost in employee morale.

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