Productivity: Motivating Employees

By John Matthews, president and founder of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.

“The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker, but of the manager.” – Peter Drucker.

I remember my first managerial job in retail foodservice.  The year was 1987, and I was a manager trainee for Little Caesars Pizza.  I had just completed an eight-week apprenticeship and was named company store manager in Northbrook, Ill. 

Northbrook is an affluent suburb of Chicago and the store “was a pit,” according to my supervisor.  When I took over the reins from the previous manager, I quickly recognized that the staff was not trained; the store was filthy; the products prepared were inconsistent and the customer base was dwindling.  My supervisor gave me “carte blanche” to remedy the situation – but with no extra operational or marketing dollars.

So, over the course of the next six months, I let the entire staff go with the exception of two employees; cleaned the restaurant from end-to-end; trained the new employees on how to maintain a clean store and execute consistent product; and started a local store food sampling program throughout the immediate trade area.

Within that six-month timetable, sales increased 52% and the store became profitable.  I received a profit-sharing check after the third month, and I still remember my supervisor saying, “This is the first time this store has ever made money.”  I was convinced that this was the way to manage people for results.

Setting the expectations for your employees is the key driver to managing to a desired result.  All too often, employees do not perform to their capabilities not because they can’t, but rather, they simply do not know what is expected of them and lack guidance. 

Back in my store in 1987, I set expectations for each employee in a pre-computer, simple way:  lamented 3 X 5 cards.  Each employee station had seven items that were handwritten and lamented on a 3 X 5 card.  Prior to each shift, I would review the expectations of this station with the employee and each had to be completed by the end of their shift.  In a clear, concise fashion, each employee knew their role and, just as importantly, how their role contributed to the overall success of the operation.  It was through simple execution that the store improved its operation.

As I progressed through a myriad of managerial roles in my corporate life, I always tried to lead my teams with the following key goals in mind:

Lead By Example:  True leaders contribute not only to the communication of the vision but in its implementation.  A “roll up your sleeves” management style is often mentioned but not implemented on an ongoing basis by most leaders.  You have to do the work with your team!  All too often, managers forget their roots of what made them work for their managers – inspiration.  Inspiring your teams by contributing to their success will continually move the entire team forward achieving both group and individual success.

Define Success And Vision:  Defining a clear and definitive vision is paramount – but outlining all the necessary mileposts to achieving that vision is equally important.  Identifying these mileposts in advance enables your team to align their activities to achieving those tasks while keeping their eye on the end vision.  Knowing the visionary path to be traveled minimizes risks and engages your employees toward a common goal.  Celebrate the mileposts along the way to motivate the team!

Identify Skills And Qualifications:  With every team, employees will possess a varying degree of skill sets and strengths.  The astute manager is the one that can correctly identify those individual strengths in employees and align each in the most prudent way to achieve the vision.  Once employees are aligned to their skill sets, the manager can then stretch their roles to allow employees to grow from their baseline comfort zone.  Misaligning tasks to employees not only risks the completion of the vision, but frustrates the employees.

Outline Employee Key Roles:  Much how the 3 X 5 cards served their purpose in the restaurant, identifying key employee tasks and expectations in advance of your quest, aligns your team toward the stated vision.  The key is to identify roles to guide the employees as to their respective deliverables, and as importantly, to minimize duplicative efforts on behalf of the team.  There is nothing more demoralizing to the team than to have their efforts wasted. Inspire them!

Identify How Each Employee Role Impacts Others:  Equally important is to help the employees know how their efforts impact or are reliant upon by others on the team.  Hitting key deadlines; achieving stated results; and overall completion of their task at hand are all critical for the team to hit their collective targets.  If one team member falls behind in their task, that can send a ripple effect across the entire team with delays.  If a manager can drive each of his employees to finish their tasks ahead of time, the entire process becomes stress-free.

Set Benchmarks For Growth:  Lastly, ongoing feedback through reviews and key performance indicators assure that everyone is focused on an “on-time, on-budget” achievement of the vision.  Display your goals for all to see for a continual reminder at the task at hand.  Align job descriptions to dovetail with expected work and identify metrics to be utilized for performance appraisals.

Aligning  your teams toward a common vision is crucial for managers.  Managers that excel in this area are high-performers and well-respected by their employees.  In addition, setting these motivating practices in motion allow each of the employees to excel in their own ways.  Sometimes, just simply communicating a well-thought through plan and vision is the key to maximizing employee productivity.

John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes  in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries.  With more than 20 years of senior-level  experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at





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