Building a Better Boss

In my last blogpost, I talked about how expensive it can be to constantly have to replace employees in your business. It has an economic cost as well as a less quantifiable cost, like the cost to company morale and customers’ experience. So how do you keep employees happy, for the moment and on an ongoing basis?

Retaining employees doesn’t necessarily require paying them more than anyone else in town or offering platinum benefits, although that certainly can help. If you don’t keep your wages somewhat competitive, people will eventually leave no matter how great a work environment you provide. There has to be an additional value beyond wages that your company brings to the employee. Most people who are building their careers want to be paid well, but they also see the value in the other important pieces you can offer that don’t cost you lot of extra dollars. These pieces just require extra thought and an action plan..

Let’s look at why people decide to quit a job. According to studies by Accenture that measured reasons for employees’ unhappiness, the greatest percentage can be attributed to not liking the boss. Think back on any job where you quit: Did you quit the job, or did you quit the boss? I can remember one boss who put her feet up on my desk whenever she came in to talk to me and yelled at me for every mistake, real or perceived. I had to quit before I’d get fired for yelling back!

According to Eric Reed’s article in TheStreet, the food service and hospitality industry is one with a reputation for mediocre bosses because managers often rise to their position based on skills that have nothing to do with their ability to manage people. They have mastered the line, or they understand the menu better than anyone else. The transition from line cook to sous chef to general manager isn’t easy for someone without leadership skills.  Often there is little time or money to be spent on training and development. Our industry is the hardest hit by this short-sighted thinking.  

The [second] most common profile for mediocre bosses is a high-turnover, low-skill environment. This may often be a retail or low-wage service industry position, one in which workers rarely stay very long so the corporation spends little on training or development. (Fast food alone has a turnover rate of 150% annually.)….. managers rarely receive the support or preparation they need to do the job well.

The other reasons why people quit? According to the Accenture study: 1) lack of empowerment, 2) internal politics, and 3) lack of recognition.  It all starts from the top. All part of the same issue.

Management Training:

It would make sense that if people leave a job because of their manager or boss, having better leaders/managers  could make a difference in having people stay.  Let’s start thinking long-term in developing leaders. Here are a few ideas:

  • Identify leaders – First identify people in your organization who have either natural skills for leadership or those who are interested in developing themselves as leaders. People who are able to take ownership of their work, and can lead others to do their best work.  In this process, be aware of any unconscious bias you may have around what a leader “looks” like. The leader in your organization may be hiding in plain sight! That busser, barback or dishwasher may surprise you someday.
  • Invest in coaching.  Put a program in place to train leaders in leadership, whether it’s a leadership program outside of work or a coach you bring in once a week. This has many benefits: 1) employees understand you are serious about leadership and good management , 2) all employees see for themselves what’s possible in your organization, 3) leaders get ongoing training designed to deal with real issues in the workplace.


  • Role Models for the Culture.  When you started your business, you had a strong set of values that informed your decision making. And now it’s time to translate those values into a culture in your business.  Often it’s these values that draw employees to work for you. But if your managers haven’t been thoroughly trained in it, they won’t be good ambassadors for that culture. Be clear with your staff that culture matters by having your managers act as role models.  I often remember the wonderful staff I had at one of my businesses. We made healthy simple food there, and connected with our customers on a personal level. We took care of our staff the same way. Our values and the way we demonstrated our values through our culture had our staff want to stay and work with us.
  • Create Structure for Everything . “Oh no!” you say? “I hate structure!” Well most people love structure in the workplace because it gives a clear map to what’s expected of them. Furthermore managers need good structures from which to evaluate someone’s success.  In fact managers can be instrumental in developing these structures!
    What do I mean? Here are a few examples: 1) a training manual for all positons 2) a clear policy around advancement and wage scales 3) a clear guide for managing disciplinary issues.4) regular check-ins with employees. 


My philosophy is if you create great managers and pathways to success, in any industry, you will create a place where people want to stay and do their best work.

Our industry in the past 30 years has become more of a profession than an occupation. We have people who have chosen career in the culinary field rather than fallen into it. Our industry can no longer assume that we don’t need the structures that other businesses need to serve employees. Employees everywhere want to be empowered in their jobs and have recognition for what they bring to their work. By crafting better managers, our industry will go a long way in improving retention in an industry that has one of the worst retention rates in the country.

 This blogpost can also be found as part of Bernoulli Finance’s February 2019 edition of The Workshop.


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