A Line In The Sand

Quick little thought for the day:

Did you ever wonder where the saying “draw a line in the sand” came from?  I was listening to a leadership talk given by Dave Ramsey and learned that it actually comes from The Alamo.  When the Texan forces were outnumbered over 1000 to 200 and it was apparent that no one would survive, Col. Travis took out his sword and drew a line in the sand.  He said anyone that wanted to stand, fight and most likely die for freedom needed to stand beside him on his line in the sand. 

I really enjoyed hearing this story as it represents how a true leader leads others.  As a leader we need to be very clear with everyone where our line in the sand is and ask others to join us if they feel the same way.  Drawing a line in the sand really clarifies both what you stand for as well as what you do not stand for.  In other words it lets everyone know what the expectations are and what the non-negotiable items are in your organization. 

Along these lines I heard a simple statement made about every new hire in an organization.  Look at every new person you bring into your organization, do they raise the collective average of everyone or do they lower the collective average.  One of the worst things we can ever do is to bring in new people and let them lower our standards.  This is where we need to have a clear line in the sand as to what is expected out of everyone.  And of course we also must always be assessing our current team members as well to make sure that we are not letting our standards slip by letting someone stay around a little too long. 

Challenge for today is to ask yourself how you can help raise the average of your team and to invite others to join you on your side of the line. 

Assets vs. Liabilities

  • As we hear so much in the news lately about tax reform, it got me to thinking about the terms assets and liabilities.  The goal in life and business is to have more assets than liabilities.  Lately, I have begun to put this question to the test in my life and business but through a little different lens.
  • When it comes to the restaurant the question I have been starting to ask myself with each team member that we have is if they are an asset or liability to our company.  Success in our business is super simple on paper, yet elusive to achieve in everyday application.  To succeed in the restaurant business, you need to have a clean restaurant, be friendly, make great food and provide a memorable experience to the diner.  As I look at each team member, the question is simple, if they help us achieve these four things they would be an asset to our company.  If they do not help us achieve these four objectives, then they would be viewed as a liability.  Our job is to make sure that we have as many assets as we can working together towards our common goals to be successful.  If we have someone that we view as a liability, it is our job to try to turn them into an asset.  A straightforward exercise is to take an employee list and mark each one as an asset or liability.  Then next to the liability marks record why and try to put together a plan to get them into the asset category.
  • In my personal life, I look at all of my relationships the same way.  I look at each person that I spend my time with and ask myself if they help me be a better person or not.  If they do then they are in the asset column, if not I need to look at them as a liability.  Similar to the concept that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with.  People you spend your time with can either help bring you up or hold you back.  The way to look at assets and liabilities in your personal life is to look at how you spend your time.  Every person is given 168 hours in a week.  I have to challenge myself sometimes to ask how I am spending my time.  Is what I am doing considered an asset or liability.  Certain activities help us become successful and achieve our goals and dreams and then there are those activities that waste our time and our efforts.
  • When it comes to all of the above situations, the key is to figure out which people and actions give us the most return on our time and investment.  One thing I have learned is that very few people or activities are neutral.  Almost every choice we make or action we take has a direct impact on our future.  Challenge yourself to write down one thing that you want to stop doing next week that will help you be more focused and intentional.

Team Member Engagement

  • I was fortunate a couple of weeks ago to be able to listen to a leadership seminar presented by Patrick Lencioni, the author of “The Ideal Team Player.”  This book is by far my favorite book of 2017.  It was amazing to hear him take a deep dive into team member engagement.  I will try to share his thoughts and try to unpack his thesis in our quick-serve setting.  One reason I think that this book hits home is that it mirrors a statement that Phil Keiser of Culver’s would always say; “Hire, Train & Retain.”  These are the exact three phases that Lencioni talks about in his book.
  • During this seminar, Lencioni broke down team member engagement and retention into a three-phase approach.  Phase one is that the team member needs to feel known.  Phase two is that the team member needs to know that their job matters.  Phase three is that the team member must be able to measure their own success.  He reminds us that there is a vast difference in having a good job versus a fulfilling job and that people get burned out when we do not have all three phases in action.
  • Being Known.  People want to feel that they belong and that they are part of something larger than themselves.  One person that embodies this is Craig Culver.  Whenever Craig goes into a restaurant he personally greats every team member and makes them feel part of the brand.  What do you do in your daily routine to know your team members better?  One thing we try to do is to take a picture of all new hires and post it on our internal Google site so all of the managers can talk to a new worker by name the first time they see them in the building.  What an easy way to set the culture of being known right from day one.  The best managers and leaders are the ones that know what is going on in the lives of their team.  They take the time to ask questions, listen and then ask follow up questions to let the other person know that they are indeed listening.  If you can ask a team member about their child or parent it goes a long way to show that you care about them on a personal level.  Come up with a semi-personal question to ask every team member once a week.
  • Their Job Matters.  In some jobs it is easy to feel that your job matters.  It is up to us in the restaurant industry to paint the picture to all of our team members why every job matters.  People visit a restaurant for many reasons, some are having a great day, some are having a bad day and some just want to escape their responsibilities for a few minutes.  Whatever the reason our primary goal and purpose is to make sure that the people leave happier than when they arrived.  Food can have a healing effect on people.  It is our responsibility to never undervalue our role in someone’s happiness for the day.  Sometimes it is those guests that seem like they are in the worst mood that I try to go out of my way to make smile.  The easiest way to help others feel happy is to smile yourself.  Be nice!  If you care about others and if you like to make others happy the service industry is for you.  Remember that both attitudes and smiles are contagious.
  • Define Success.  Our team needs to be able to know if they are doing a good job or not.  If they have no way of knowing they will lose interest and become less engaged.  One of the best ways to define is success is if there is a way that the team member can know and self assess at the end of every shift.  Does each position understand what success looks like?  Can each person say if they won their shift?  Can we help each person see how important each of their positions are to our overall organization?  Help give people a goal for the shift and ask them to self assess themselves at the end of their shift.  How did you do today?  Let them give you the answer.  If you don’t agree, ask them how they could do even better on their next shift and maybe give them one suggestion if they do not have any ideas.  If you see something happening during the shift, try to provide one coaching technique and then as the shift goes along praise the method if you see it in action.
  • Following these three above principles on a daily basis will lead to better team member engagement and an improved company culture.  Ask yourself which one of the three you need to focus on first in your organization and start to implement the process every day.

Sails On A Ship

  • As today is Thanksgiving in the United States, I thought I would tie in a ship reference.  We talked last week about the process.  The process is like a ship.  The process is what creates the main body of the ship.  When the seas get rough the integrity of the ship gets tested.  Likewise when our business climate gets rough our processes and systems are put to the test.  Sometimes in rough seas a boat may need stabilizers to help keep it afloat.  Yet in calm waters those stabilizers can actually slow the ship down.  In our business when the going gets tough we need to make sure that we get all hands on deck and maintain as much stability as possible.  We need to count on a very rigid foundation to make sure that we can hold true to our core values and weather out the storm.
  • Now comes the second part of the ship, the sails.  On a team, I feel that loving each other, serving each other and committing to each other around the primary goal of the business is what determines the height of the sails.  The bigger the sails, the further the ship can travel.  With no sails the ship would look good but never get to its destination.  With huge sails and a weak foundation, the boat would eventually sink.  As the tides and winds shift the sails must also be flexible to keep the ship on course.  The best example of this in recent memory is the Clemson Tigers.  Coach Dabo Swinney is a firm believer in everyone on the team loving one another, serving one another and committing to the goal.  Last year during the college football national championship Clemson trailed Alabama at halftime.  Dabo told his team that they all love one another too much to fail.  They came out in the second half with a new found will to win the game.  The top two things that we as leaders must do in our organization is to care for and serve our time.  We must love our guests, love our team and love serving others to reach our full potential as both individuals and as a team.  As Americans we afraid of the word commitment, yet it takes commitment to reach the next level in every endeavor.
  • One final thought on Thanksgiving.  Everyday we all have the choice to either be grateful or hateful in our lives.  It is up to each one of us to remain grateful for all of our blessings.  I am grateful and thankful for everyone in my life.  I would not be where I am today without every person that I have met in my life.  Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Trust The Process

  • Trust the process is a saying that John Lee Dumas of EOFire uses almost every day when people ask questions about how to best use his Freedom or Mastery journal.  “The process” is also a catchphrase coined by Nick Saban, the coach of Alabama, as he was building his fantastic football program.
  • I wanted to call out the above people because as an outsider looking in all you see is someone who is at the top of their profession and as an outsider, all you can say is wow and how.  How can people, teams or companies consistently execute at such a high level?  The process is a set of systems that when followed get results.  The process never focuses on the result, instead, it focuses on the daily activities needed to follow to achieve the result.
  • As I have mentioned in previous posts, the difference between good and great is in the details.  The details are in the process or the systems that we have in our company that when followed lead to great results.  These details are fostered in the culture that you build within your organization.  Whenever I have a situation arise in one of my restaurants, the first question I ask myself is if we had a system in place that should have prevented it in the first place.  Most of the time the answer is yes, we had a system, it just wasn’t trained or executed correctly.
  • A few weeks ago I attended a one-day training seminar that featured multiple six-figure speakers and thought leaders in business and leadership.  By the end of the day, all I could do is shake my head in frustration.  Frustration because most of the advice and topics covered are already built into our company’s systems.  The real problem is that we do not follow our systems and trust the process every day.  As our organization grows and we open more stores it is imperative that all our leaders know our processes and understand why they are so important.  We need to define better what the process is, why it is important and how following the process can improve engagement and overall enjoyment.
  • Let’s take a look at just a couple of processes that we have in our business.  When we hire a new team member, we should take a picture of them on the IPAD and post in our company google account.  This way when any manager or owner sees this team member for the first time, we can call them by name and introduce ourselves.  What a great way to set a tone of we know who you are right from day one.  Another process we have is a security measure to combat quick-change artists.  Almost every one of our stores in Phoenix gets at least one quick-change artist per year.  Our process is that only a manager can take a large bill and give change.  The second stage which is the most important is that we only allow one money exchange.  If they start to ask for alternate choices our process is to close the cash drawer and end the transaction immediately.  We have so many of these little processes in our company that we may not even realize why we do things a certain way.  The process is why so many chain restaurants have such loyal fans; every store can execute consistently.
  • On a personal note, I also have a daily process and routine that I try to follow.  If I stray from that routine, I am not as productive and start to feel overwhelmed by the seemly insurmountable tasks ahead.  If I follow my process and use my journal, I can have an intentional plan of attack that gives me small wins every day.  Trust The Process! 


  • I wanted to start my blog back up again after choosing to take a month off from writing.  Over the past month, I have been very busy trying to look ahead to the future and determine how to be very intentional about how I choose to utilize my time.
  • I ended up watching a documentary on Compton, LA the other day, and I heard something that stopped me in my tracks.  Serena and Venus Williams grew up in Compton.  They even had an older sister that was murdered in Compton.  What I didn’t realize is that their father choose to move to Compton when the girls were little even though he could afford to live somewhere else.  He felt that people of high achievement need to struggle and grow up with adversity.  He thought that people that lead a privileged life see an obstacle and give up.  People that grow up with difficulty see those same obstacles merely as an inconvenience.
  • It is incredible how many choices we can all make every day.  We can choose where we live, where we work, who our friends are, what we eat, what we say and what we stand for.  So many people pretend that they are blocked for some reason, so they fall back onto the safe and predictable path.  Every day we are presented with choices that we do not recognize as potential opportunities.  It is never easy to make some of those tough choices, but that is usually where our real growth happens.
  • Unfortunately, sometimes we let the actions of others dictate our choices.  We feel like we have no control over a situation and allow other people determine our future.  As I may have mentioned the two things we have total control over is our attitude and our effort.  When it comes to our attitude, it boils down to how we view or perceive a situation.  It is unfortunate to see someone make choices that will alter their life just because of how they perceive a particular situation.  Some people may view this as pride getting in the way.  There are many quotes about pride being the enemy of love, grace, reason, etc.  To me, pride becomes the enemy of your attitude.  In every situation, we can choose to be grateful and look for the good in a situation, or we can choose to be hateful and find a reason to feel victimized.
  • One thing that I like to do every year in October is to reflect on my life plan.  My life plan consists of main areas in my life, and each area has a lifetime statement, actions needed to take to get there and both 5 and 10-year checkpoints.  It is a great exercise to make sure that I can make intentional choices based on my priorities and help remain grateful in every situation that may arise.  Those events become speed bumps, not roadblocks.
  • I loved the quote by Bill Gates when he said: “most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year, but they greatly underestimate what they can do in a decade.”  This quote is a good reminder for all of us that success and growth take time.  Both success and failure are typically not achieved overnight; it’s an accumulation of the small choices that we make along the way.

Follow Up To Productivity

Good Morning!  A little different post today.  I am sharing a link to a blog that was written by Seth Godin that is a good follow up to my post about productivity.  It is a good reminder that we need to be leading and working up as much as possible.  Keep setting the bar high and raising our standards.  Don’t let under achievers pull down an entire organization!  I hope you enjoy his short post.


No Such Thing As A Bad Location

When we look at busy restaurants, we immediately say to ourselves that they picked a great location.  There most certainly are great sites out there, but I have seen great restaurants succeed in even a poor location.  If you have a great location, your chances of success are higher but your chances to put out a mediocre experience also increases.  A good location can make a mediocre operation look good just as a poor location can make a mediocre operation look bad.  The amazing thing to see is when a great operation can take a poor location and turn it into a huge success.  Last week we discussed how productivity was one leading indicator of a restaurants success.  Today I want to look at a few more factors.

  • One thing that can help make this reality is to have a passion brand.  Restaurants that offer exceptional food and service create loyal, raving fans.  These fans will go to the ends of the earth to tell everyone they can about your business.  In poor locations this type of engagement can lead to incredible success.  At the same time, if you do not go above and beyond to create and appreciate these loyal, raving fans they will stop going out of their way to support your company.  We see this a lot when a new store opens to enormous success, and then they never reach that level of achievement in the future.  I believe that if you are running a tip top operation and building your fan base that by the third year your sales should be able to exceed your first year’s sales.  Ask each manager to fill out a paper with 20 guest names and details, see how many struggle and see how many list 30.
  • Another key ingredient in building your fan base is to be entrenched in the local community.  Spend as much time as you can building long term ROI with as many people in the area as you can.  Take the opportunity to donate whenever possible.  My current goal as an owner is to spend at least 5 hours per month marketing my company in the community.  This can be as simple as wearing your company polo and always having some coupons to hand out to people that you meet.  You would be amazed how times per day I am stopped by someone when they see my Culver’s shirt to talk to me about our store.  Talk about a passion brand!  This should even be a standard practice among your management team. Every manager should spend at least one hour per week working in the dining room.  This is the best way to start to create those long term relationships needed to succeed.
  • Present and engaged.  These are the two words describe a successful restaurant.  You have to have a present and engaged owner and management team to be successful.  The people that spend the most time at the business need to be the face of the company.  They are the ones that will set the standards, when the owner & managers are present and engaged the details matter.  The details are what separate the good from the great.  It was a quote by Jon Taffer, the host of bar rescue that summed it up in one sentence.  “There are no such things as poor locations; there are merely bad owners, operators & managers.”  One comment that I tell every new restaurant team is that we should be able to look back at the end of the year and say that we did everything we possibly could to retain every guest that visited our restaurant.

Optimal Productivity

I wanted to take a moment to touch on an operational theory about productivity.  At Culver’s we measure productivity in terms of how many guest experiences (transactions) we have compared to how many team member hours we have scheduled.  Productivity is an interesting metric that can tell an even deeper story than your actual labor cost.  The term comes the base word productive which means being able to produce.  One of the synonyms of productive is fruitful.

  • One of the most dangerous threats to a company is low productivity.  Low productivity hurts team morale, guest service, and overall profitability.  People often say that a slow restaurant is harder to manage because they have limited resources.  From my personal experience I can say that the real secret to this statement is optimal productivity.  I have seen slow restaurants that are not productive that become a nightmare.  I have seen slow restaurants that are highly productive become a success.  I have also seen busy restaurants with low productivity have more operational issues than slower units.  I think that the busy restaurant may have a greater chance to fall victim to this than a slower unit because it can fly under the radar.  A busier restaurant can over schedule and it doesn’t stand out at quickly as a slower unit.  Below are a few main causes of low productivity.
  • To Many Team Members In The Building.  If you have too many team members and managers in the building people have a tendency to not feel responsible for getting the job done.  Most people believe that it is not their responsibility to get something done. someone else will take care of it.  Having too many team members in the building makes everyone feel that they are not required to work to their fullest potential.  Then when the time comes and they need to work a little harder they either cannot handle it or feel resentful.
  • Poor Training.  This follows the line of having too many team members in the building.  If there are too many workers the training is often sub par.  If you normally have only 3 or 4 people for 4 stations everyone knows that they need to train the new person really well.  If you have 5 or 6 people for 4 stations the tendency is to put less effort and emphasis on training.  The level of urgency is lacking during the entire training process.  When the level of urgency is missing during training, this can spill over to how the team member views the job.
  • Not Holding High Standards.  If there is inadequate training, this often leads to not being able to achieve high standards.  Once our standards are lowered we again lose the sense of urgency need to perform when it gets busy.  Short cuts are the crutch used by improperly trained team members when they cannot keep up.  When there are too many team members it is also for a lot of finger pointing when the standards are not met.  The most common answer is that they were not trained correctly.
  • Poor Communication.  Poor communication by both team members and managers leads to reduced productivity.  You need to be intentional and over communicate so everyone is on the same page.  As mentioned before if there is a void of communication it will be filled with gossip.  Gossip is an absolute productivity killer.  Spending a couple of hours communicating the right things to the right people can multiply 10X when it comes to those people being more productive.
  • Working Down.  As an owner of multiple restaurants the number one things that frustrates me the most is when I see our managers / leaders working down.  There are times during the day when you need to pitch in and help out but so many times our managers end up working down way more than necessary.  Working down is a direct result of low productivity.  You end up doing tasks for others that they should be able to handle.  The result of working down is usually working more hours.  The answer to improve productivity is never to simply work more hours.  The answer is to be intentional and get more of your team to work up.
  • Busy Is Bad.  All of the above causes of poor productivity can lead to the mindset of busy is bad.  Once your team develops this mindset the shift is lost before it even begins.  Your team will start to manage the store down to a lower level of sales thinking that they will not have to work as hard.  The reality is that as the sales fall you need to work even harder than before.  Do whatever you need to do to foster the right mindset that it is great to be busy.  I hope we are super busy tonight.  Are you ready for a busy day? 
  • How To Improve Productivity:
  • 1. Have the right mindset and get everyone excited to be busy.  As you think so shall you be.
  • 2. Schedule the minimum amount of people needed for the shift.  The way to know if you have the right amount is if you feel a slight pinch point at your peak times but feel steady during the slow times.  If you have been overstaffed for a while this transition may be rough at first.
  • 3. Get the most out of your training hours.  It is important to let people fail a little bit during their training.  They need to realize how much work is required out of them when on a station.  Make sure that the trainer acts like a coach, not a fellow player.
  • 4. Communication.  Use your shift goals, jump starts, one on ones, training tools, certification sheets, check lists and any other means needed to communicate the plan to everyone.  Make sure that the plan and expectations are clear.
  • 5.  If you see it say.  As we have talked about in other posts, praise and coach at all times.
  • All of these tips will lead to your team working up more than they are working down.  Working up is the ultimate form of optimal productivity.  The closer the level of productivity in the store is to optimal the more fruitful and less stressed we will be. 

A Culture of Learning

I am always amazed how annoying it is to sit in a wobbly chair.  The cause of a wobbly chair is often that one leg is slightly shorter than the rest.  Following up on last week’s post, we have a few options with how we want to deal with the chair.  The easiest choice is to do nothing, let the chair be wobbly.  When others sit in the chair, you can make an excuse for why the chair is wobbly.  You can say that it is a good chair or you can say that you have had the chair for a long time.  The next easiest choice is to cut the other three legs off to make all of the legs even.  This choice is typically what happens in our education system in America; we teach down so that the one student doesn’t feel left out.  In doing so, we end up bringing everyone else down in the process.  The people that make the tough choice and make things happen realize that they need to do everything they can to build the short leg up so that it reaches its full potential and the chair becomes stable.

  • As leaders and managers, it is our job to make sure that we create a culture of learning and accountability.  This is how you can help reduce the number of wobbly team members you have on your team.  Sometimes people are merely in the wrong chair, and by placing them in a different position, they no longer wobble.  There is the occasional time when you simply have the wrong chair on the team, and you need to get rid of it as fast as you can so that other good chairs don’t start to wobble in the process.  Keeping the wrong team member around isn’t fair to anyone.  The great team members will start to underperform and may even start to look for a new team.  The wobbly team member that you do not coach along the way will go to their next team and have no clue why they do not fit in.  By creating a culture of learning, it lets everyone know that it is ok to make mistakes and ask questions.  Creating a culture of learning leads to constant feedback.  Regular feedback creates accountability.  Accountability leads to consistency.  Consistency is what transforms good teams into great teams.
  • Five steps to help foster a culture of learning:
  • 1. The first phase of the process as mentioned many times on my blog is to build relationships.  Once you have a stable relationship and people know and feel that you care about them they will buy into the process.  If you want this method to work even when you are not in the building, you have to have the level of trust that is built through relationships.
  • 2.  Set daily shift goals.  Make sure that everyone on the team knows what they should be doing.  Clear, constant communication is paramount.  Gossip is what usually fills the void when there is a lack of communication.
  • 3.  Provide regular feedback.  Both positive and constructive.  Try to give the positive feedback in public and the helpful comments in private.  If you see it, say it!  If you see something, either good or bad, make sure to speak up.  What you quietly allow becomes what becomes the rule of your command.  Remember the 5 to 1 rule when it comes to feedback.  For every one time, you need to coach someone you should try to give them five compliments before coaching them again.
  • 4.  Learn and teach one thing every day.  This goes to having the right mindset as a leader.  As a leader, you should always have a goal to learn one new thing and teach at least one person one new thing every day.  This helps you develop the mindset of learning vs. a simply a mindset of accountability.  The simple phrase “let me show you how ____” goes a long way to help build the relationship and thus create the culture of learning that we are trying to achieve.
  • 5.  Never lose sight of the big picture.  Always remind everyone on the team of the “why” and the ultimate goal or vision of the team.  People don’t get burnt out from doing something; they get burnt out when they forget why they are doing it in the first place.
  • The most important part of these five steps is that every leader on the team must do their part in following all five steps.  It takes the entire management team working as one to create this type of culture.