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National Restaurant Association - Create culture that rocks

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Create culture that rocks

Forge a fan boy-like following through service that rocks your guests’ worlds. Your culture should create an almost obsessive need for diners to return to your establishment and consume your products, says Jim Knight, People Forward managing partner.

Knight, who ran training and development for 21 years at Hard Rock International, spoke at the National Restaurant Association's Marketing Executives Group and NRA Show 2015. Discover his tips to create culture – and service – that rocks:

  • Celebrate heritage, but focus on culture. Knight doesn’t try to train employees on behavioral traits. Instead, he focuses on hiring the right people from the start. Organizational culture is about people, he says. When you look at the most-admired Fortune 500 companies, they have a shared mindset among all employees.

    Shared mindsets produce aligned actions, such as organizational productivity and sustainable growth. In contrast, individual agendas produce random actions, which create cultures of confusion and dysfunctional results.

  • Be like U2. Although it’s one of the most popular bands on the planet, many people don’t know the drummer’s and bass guitarist’s names. Yet Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton are as critical to the band’s success as Bono and the Edge, Knight points out. And each knows his individual role in the band, just as everyone at your restaurant has a part to play. “When you have everyone singing off the same sheet of music, your business can be unstoppable.” 
  • Create a customer-centric business purpose. Restaurants need to train employees with the mindset: “If you’re the customer, I will do anything for you.” Employees who don’t practice that are wounding the organization. 

    Use personalized and customized attention to show guests they’re not just another number and develop emotional attachments for your brand. “The totality of the experience is key. You’ve got to blow people away like at a rock concert. 

    “At the end the day, we need people who are unapologetically authentic in everything they do. We should have employees who think, ‘I’m creating memories.’”
  • Don’t hang your hat on the product. You can mess up on product and make it right with killer service, but you can’t make up for bad service. People never forget their first rock concert or, similarly, a great restaurant experience. Your employees should act like they’re playing for a packed house every day. If people have a “killer experience,” they’ll come back and spend more. “I want to do something that’s going to absolutely blow people away, so they say, ‘Yes, I want more.’” 
  • Avoid four-letter words, such as “fine, “good” and “okay.” Those adjectives scream mediocrity. When people don’t try, mediocrity becomes acceptable. Instead, be descriptive so your brand can leapfrog over the competition.  
  • Find top talent. “We need rock stars, not lip synchers, to amp up the band,” he says. Think about it like the Rolling Stones. The band has outstanding music and musicianship but hasn’t had a hit since 1989. Yet, it’s still the top grossing act on the road. 

    “People are willing to spend the money for the show because of the show,” he says. “The employees are the show. Treat them like rock stars. Right now, it’s an employee’s world. If I’m a rock star, I can always get another gig.
  • Communicate internally in the language people dream. Restaurants do that for consumers, so they need to think about how to get their message across in training materials. Knight recommends using as many images as possible, with few words in consistent brand fonts and colors. That way, everyone “gets it” without a need for translation. Think of airline safety cards and Ikea furniture directions, which have images, but no words. Plus, take advantage of social media, video and e-learning. “Technology is 100 percent interwoven into our daily lives.” Restaurants have to be like cyborgs, combining technology and humans.
  • Let love rule. Implement voluntary company-wide philanthropic initiatives. A key trait of today’s workforce is social consciousness. And Knight believes most people want to contribute to a cause.  

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