In the twenty-first century workplace, data is king. For company leaders, metric analysis is a spinal tap that can gauge the health of a business as well as help to diagnose problems and shed light on potential solutions.
The steady march of technology into commerce has given rise to a generation of metric maniacs — ambitious leaders who obsess over the data points that have potential to impact the bottom line.
This development is positive until it’s not. Naturally, leaders who strive to maximize business outcomes are necessary for growth, but when it comes to reading data, often the forest is missed for the trees.
My work is predominantly with enterprise scale restaurants, a field where the chasm between tree and forest is often particularly exacerbated. Sky high attrition rates have cause executives to become so focused on the figures — guest satisfaction, average ticket size, product upsells — they forget about what’s behind them: the employees. Enterprise strategies like advertising, marketing, product refinement, etc., certainly have their place, but the foundation of any business rests on the hands that keep it afloat day-to-day. Employees are the true drivers of business, and if their potential energy is not maximized, numbers will stagnate and decline no matter what sort of grand strategy you implement.
This concept is nothing new: the phrase “employee engagement” has found itself increasingly en vogue over the past few years. We’ve all seen the now-trademark “X methods of improving employee engagement” listicle flash across our LinkedIn feeds; we’ve all pondered what the “secret sauce” of engagement may be. Is it gamification? Monetary incentive? Company health programs? In the flurry of potential answers, executives have forgotten basic principles: starting at the guts of the machine and refining, piece by piece, until efficiency is optimized and figures start to move.
Overproliferation of “engagement” theory has reduced its potency. Many engagement strategies now involve something of a shotgun approach, when what’s required is a precision laser: a methodical, ground-up reassessment.
If you want to be a true metric maniac and get your data points moving, start at the ground floor: with your employees. Throughout my fifteen years of experience in-industry, first as a consultant and later as an entrepreneur, I’ve seen the same mistakes repeated over and over. I’ve developed a three pillar thought process to combat workforce stagnation.
Hire character, not expertise.
Let’s take a step back and consider what the word “qualified” actually means. According to a landmark 1998 study by Frank Schmidt and John Hunter, the number of years of work experience of a prospective employee has roughly a 3% impact on actual job performance. Reference checks can predict performance slightly better, at 7%; interviews don’t fare much better, at 14%. These are the figures Google cites when they discuss their unique approach to hiring.
Qualification entails a lot more than can be contained in a two-page CV or a half-hour interview. If leaders want to optimize their business, they must start at the base level when assessing applicants: personality and character.
The best restaurants I work with make applicants take a personality profile prior to hiring. Only those applicants whose profiles align closely with those of the company’s top performers are hired. This virtually guarantees that — regardless of skill level at entry — an employee will have the wherewithal to become a top performer. And when a company is full of top performers, the data moves rapidly.
Teach — relentlessly.
After character, the next step is skill and knowledge, which determine how well an employee is able to perform in the workplace.
These must be taught. Not solely during onboarding; not solely during training sessions within the first few weeks of employment; but relentlessly throughout an employee’s entire lifecycle. Teach, and reinforce. This ceaseless cycle does not fail.
One restaurant mandates up to 150 hours of training before they allow even a cashier to operate without one-to-one supervision. Yes — that’s 150 hours of paid training. This exceeds what many white collar workers must complete prior to taking on much greater responsibility. When employees subsequently take on further responsibilities, they complete an additional 150 hours of certification training in that field before they’re allowed to work independently. And each shift, a handful employees is randomly selected to take a test on key tasks for their role. If they fail, they go through the same training again.
This solution is airtight, and companies that are willing to put more into their employees get more out: the order accuracy rate for the restaurant in question is 10x lower than the industry average.
Don’t “manage.” Empower.
The last step is empowerment. In this context, “management” is stagnant leadership: the kind that scours through reams of data and concocts grand strategy without properly leveraging employees.
When leadership invests in employees, the result is a workforce to be reckoned with: a team of savvy employees who take pride in their performance. In order to perpetuate this level of motivation and create a self-replicating loop, empower employees through transparency. That means that workers have constant access to the data that is currently all-too-often hoarded at the top: revenues; sales; customer satisfaction; peer performance relative to their own. Transparency cultivates a sense of ownership, which acts as a cement that reinforces employee commitment.
So, yes — leaders should be metric maniacs. But they must go about it like a captain at the helm of a ship rather than a suit at the top of a skyscraper. Start from the bottom up; hire the best; teach relentlessly; and trust the employees you’ve cultivated to own their performance. Do this, and watch your metrics skyrocket.