Challenge: A group of franchised, casual dining restaurants in the Dallas/Fort Worth area had a problem. Top management was committed to running the business with purpose, paying attention to the needs of all stakeholders, and fostering a workplace where employees could thrive. But front-line employees didn’t share the vision. There was a disconnect between the aspirations of leadership and the culture on the ground.

Cooks, servers, dishwashers, bus-people–and even individual store managers–mostly saw their work as just another job. Management was concerned about turnover rates and commitment levels. Ultimately, employees simply didn’t think their work mattered that much. Such an attitude negatively impacted the customer experience.

When employees don’t buy into a mission that matters, they’re far less likely to flourish.

And when employees aren’t flourishing, teams don’t work together. Customers notice. And the business is less competitive.

Action: This restaurant needs to reframe how its employees work by reframing why they work. Here’s how:

  1. Start by listening to front-line employees. Ask a representative cross-section to share their personal values. And see where those values reflect a desire to acknowledge others, take care of people, and extend welcome. In one form or another, some of those values will almost certainly reflect that desire.
  2. Craft a narrative that succinctly expresses the restaurant’s mission in terms of the specific values that employees articulate.
  3. Bring local store managers on board. Share the new narrative with them, and ask them to collectively brainstorm specific changes they’d like to make in their stores to better reflect this story.
  4. Ask managers to model the new vision in their local restaurants and share it with their teams. Front-line employees need to know that the new narrative isn’t arriving as a top-down mandate. It’s an invitation to express the values they’ve already claimed as their own.
  5. Track changes to employee engagement and customer satisfaction to gauge impact. This tracking can happen through social media, surveys, and in-person interactions.
  6. Recognize specific teams that exceptionally embody the new narrative. Challenge others to follow.

Results: This process will produce a story, with its own compelling characters and setting. Here’s one version:

This restaurant exists to provide food that delights and nourishes those who enjoy it. Each restaurant location is a home. (This particular restaurant even had the word ‘house’ baked right into its name.) Now, we’re all starting to live up to our name. Our real mission is extending hospitality like a team that works together as family. Those who come to eat are our guests. They’re people who deserve to be acknowledged and welcomed. Even when they’re prickly, difficult, or unfriendly. Because that’s what true hospitality is all about.

Our restaurant is in the business of offering hospitality.

And that’s more than just delivering a product, providing a space, rendering a service. Hospitality is the acknowledgement that says, ‘You matter.’ It’s the smile that says, ‘Come on in! You’re friends of the family.’

What’s the tangible payoff when employees claim this story for themselves?

  1. Shared alignment of values and purpose throughout the organization;
  2. Thriving staff who are doing well because they care about their work, see how it matters, and are invested in its impact;
  3. Better employee retention;
  4. Increased employee loyalty;
  5. Happier customers.

When guests are taken care of like this, they show up. They tip. They tell their friends. They come back. For a restaurant like this, profits are one important way in which guests say, ‘Thank you’ and ask for more.