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Are you stifling your staff?

Editorial
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Has the drive for an efficient appearance given rise to meanness of spirit and lack of aspiration in your business?

Recently I had the pleasure of spending a couple of weeks on a cruise ship and found it a most interesting experience on a number of levels. It was like travelling back in time to another era of service where a patriarchal system ruled, and the whole thing was a little like a combination of a five star hotel, a retirement village crossed with a club Med, an all you can eat buffet and a floating version of Wes Anderson’s ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’.

The leaders of this ship (captain and chief’s level) were largely British, front of house departments were dominated by Italians and the floor staff in restaurant and cleaning were mainly from the Philippines, and while their nationality was irrelevant to the observation, it provided the contrast required for analysis. There exists on a ship ‘old fashioned’ layers in the structure of service and it operates much like one of the armed forces or emergency services with a head that is certainly in command, and it is this that had me looking at current management practice – is ‘lean’ just plain ‘mean’?

Companies today seem more driven than ever to put themselves out there as ‘lean’ and ‘flat’ in terms of their operating structure, giving the appearance to outsiders as a place where no money is wasted and efficiency reigns supreme. But what does that mean internally for the team? Has this drive for efficient appearance given rise to meanness of spirit and lack of aspiration? For instance, open offices are all the rage (I seriously don’t know why as the only people who like them are the company accountants) and yet what has this done for achieving a better work environment? We no longer have the dream of an office to go with the promotion, just a workstation closer to the indoor plant or further from the bathroom. If the only reward for promotion is money, are we becoming more narrow and inward looking? You can sit at your workstation in nicer shoes though.

However, getting a promotion presumes that your company actually has tiers in its management structure. Many restaurants and small businesses are family affairs where there is the owner and the staff – a simple structure to be sure. This is being replicated in some of the flat corporate structures where ‘middle’ managers are becoming cannon fodder for the HR department and the more traditional ‘beehive’ format of Queen and Worker comes more into play. Again, while this pleases accountants, will it work for your business?

Simple structures allow for managers/owners feeling as if they are across all aspects of the business and in touch with the goings on, however it creates other problems. Managers can have a lack of focus, as they are pulled from sales to accounts and then across to purchasing, all before having a morning coffee thrust into their hand. If you have 20 staff and one manager, time is going to be a precious commodity for you all.

Furthermore, what sort of leader will the manager have to be in order to remain effective? A tendency to skim across the surface of the business will leave employees feeling undervalued in their roles, but a manager who prioritises one function over another can easily alienate the team. No-one said that this was easy.

The flat structure has another victim – aspiration. If there is no layering in the organisation, where can an employee go to improve their situation? Without a promotable role to aspire to, companies will lose good employees to other businesses, often competitors, and all your investment in training, knowledge and goodwill goes with them to the benefit of another company – and then you need to recruit, which provides additional expense. Business leaders and researchers talk about the lack of loyalty in the Generation Y workforce, but perhaps the lack of value or growth opportunity provided by employers is partly responsible for driving their fluid work pattern.

The difficulty in looking at these issues is that there is no easy solution to shoot out as a cure all to businesses – especially ones in the hospitality trade. The marketplace is tight and all sections of the food chain from manufacturers, through to wholesalers, retailers or restaurants and end users are feeling the pinch of some pretty dire economic times. In this environment companies can consider rewards beyond money as a means of keeping their employees engaged, involved and loyal.

Take the time to connect with your teams and find out what their values are, as they’re often very different to yours. It may be something as simple as flexibility in work patterns or hours, or wanting greater input into the operation. They may possess skills you are unaware of and want the opportunity to show them off; they may crave recognition or more autonomy. These things will cost your business little, but might open up a new level of engagement that helps hold your team together.

The land locked world may not enjoy the same layered hierarchy of the sea, but if we can go some way to replicating the level of job satisfaction apparent in the staff on board my cruise and receive the splendid service as a benefit, then progress will have been made.

Image: careertipster.com and www.curtmercadante.com

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