The Four Walls of Profitability Restaurateurs Need to Scale
by Jim Sullivan
“In the past, stability and change were two contrasting states: When you achieved stability, you did so despite change. Today change has become an integral part of stability. Today you can achieve stability only by embracing change as a continuous and permanent state.” –Daniel Burress, author of Flash Foresight
On November 21, 1963, the day before he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, U.S. President John F. Kennedy gave a 9-minute speech in San Antonio. His address focused on how the research related to the New Frontier of Space was a smart investment as it would ultimately benefit all of mankind. He noted that in a challenging era that was characterized by both crisis and opportunity, it was paramount for leaders, pathfinders and pioneers at every level to step forth and contribute to society. Kennedy warned that in the pursuit of Big Things, we cannot let the fear of the unknown–and what has to be done–inhibit our willingness to leap forward despite both the real and perceived obstacles standing in our way.
Kennedy then related a story by Irish writer Frank O’Connor about overcoming fear. O’Connor said that as a young lad in Ireland he and his friends would run and play among the green fields and orchards of the countryside. Property lines were delineated by stone walls of varying heights. Most were easy to scramble over for the boys, but some of the walls proved formidable. To successfully climb the walls that scared them the most, they would throw their caps over. Since they could not return home without their caps, the act steeled their resolve to scale even the most daunting walls.
Kennedy’s speech went on to compare the USA’s commitment to be the worldwide leader in Space exploration to O’Connor’s story: “This nation has tossed its cap over the wall of Space and we have no choice but to follow it,” Kennedy said. “Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome, whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against. We will climb this wall with safety and with speed and we shall then explore the wonders on the other side.”
His analogy of facing uncertainty with resolve, focus, and conviction is apropos for today’s restaurant industry as well. Foodservice brands face formidable goals and challenges daily, with economic uncertainty, skittish customers, rising prices, and dithering politicians topping the list. New opportunities can be obscured by walls of uncertainty, indecision, lack of focus, or inertia. But with walls in every direction, how can leaders determine which ones obscures the right destination? And which ones lead to the places we need not go? Here’s my take on the four major walls foodservice leaders face—and how to overcome them.
Wall # 1: Focusing on the wrong things. “First people, then direction,” says Good to Great author Jim Collins. “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” Once you’ve made hiring the most important decision, then align your talent pool to where you need to go together. Passionate people imbedded in a vibrant culture ask what they can contribute while dispassionate ones ask only what they can achieve. Surround yourself with people who give a damn. To find better people don’t have managers ask “What position do I have open?” Instead: “How well do I want this job done?” This re-positions the search on talent-seeking instead of slot-filling.
Wall # 2: Worried more about what might vs what mustn’t. Assess the next twelve months through two prisms: hard trends (future fact) and soft trends (future maybe). Know the difference and strategize accordingly. Distinguish between what might change versus what must not change. What might change includes: the economy, pricing, regulations, technology, competition. Be prepared for those eventualities. What must not change are your core values. Know what you stand for. And what you won’t stand for. Reinforce—and hold people accountable for–the behavior that reflects those beliefs.
Wall # 3: Getting bored with the basics. Most companies presume they have the fundamentals “down.” And so they concentrate on peripheral things, “sexier” things, digital things, new things. Foodservice brands lose focus on the fundamentals over time. Don’t overlook the importance of managing the mundane. Service, for instance, is made up of a thousand little things that the customer doesn’t even notice…until we don’t do them. Walt Disney said it best: “There’s no magic to magic. It’s all in the details.”
Wall # 4: Impatience. You have fourteen shifts a week, 56 shifts per month, 168 shifts per quarter, 672 shifts per year. What if you focused on just ONE Key Result Area (service, selling, cost control, teamwork etc) each shift and improved on it? Where would you be twelve months from now? Every single day, focus on three essential things: incremental gains, habitual consistency, and continuous improvement. You’ll see long-term change when you invest in daily development. Business is a Marathon, not a sprint.
There are probably many more walls you could cite—both real and imagined—but start by scaling these four. If you don’t know where to begin, or are uncertain about being truly committed, then toss your cap over, and explore the wonders on the other side.
This article is excerpted from Jim Sullivan’s best-selling book Fundamentals: 9 Ways to Be Brilliant at the New Basics, available here at Sullivision.com.