The Cafe Fix_Part One : Leadership

It’s been an interesting few months, working with everyone from small start up cafes to multi-site franchises.

Regardless of the scale of the business, I’m continually reminded of 5 key issues at the core of an operation’s dysfunction, and then I’m finding those same 5 things at the core of its success. At the centre of it all is leadership.

I talk about leadership a lot with my clients because, in my opinion, good leadership is the most important aspect of running a successful business. With good leadership comes better cohesion within the team, which flows into higher quality and consistency of product and a better customer experience.

In the projects I’ve worked on recently, I’ve experienced varying degrees of owner/manager engagement and all for various reasons – exhaustion, inexperience, loss of vision, financial stress and so on. How different people manage these issues within themselves is critical to retaining composure, clarity and the ability to stand strong for the team.

The first step in being a great leader is knowing where you’re going, and where you’re leading your team. Whether you call it your vision, mission statement or BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), create the vision for your business and articulate it in things like mission statements, your code of conduct and your employee culture documents. It can be layered into your social media with hashtags as well as in other customer facing material.

From your vision, set your business goals and targets with timeframes that keep you on track, and this becomes the roadmap to guide your team. The vision, articulated as goals and targets, provides your team with clarity and purpose and gives you the foundation of their KPIs. Another great thing about having all of this articulated for your team is gaining consensus on the mission at hand. The wrong staff will shy away from someone with clear goals and expectations and the right staff will buy in, invest and believe in you.

A great leader can inspire on a grand scale but also have the frameworks in place to focus the team on the tasks at hand. A great leader contributes to achieving those goals, they create accountability and they reward effort and achievements. That’s foundational.

Then we have what’s always in a state of flux – every day your cafe is open, every service period, every shift change, where anything can happen and often does. How a leader deals with these unplanned events can build the trust and respect that unites a team under their direction.

When I’m working to build a leader’s skills, I’ll generally find an analogy that strikes the right chord with that person. Some of my preferred analogies include the coach of the team, the captain of the ship or the flight attendant during turbulence. Usually one of these scenarios resonates with the person, and from there I can grow an understanding with them of how pivotal a role the person in a leadership position has in the successful running of a shift, team or company.

Being faced with varied levels of skill, experience and engagement among staff members means that every day, every shift, or even every hour, the team will need a leader who can set a course and navigate them through a changing landscape, cohesively and seamlessly. It can be an exhausting gig – sometimes it’ll feel like you’re the ringleader at the circus, sometimes you’re winning a war and other times you find yourself on a vast ocean with no wind to fill your sail.

Too often I see ‘teams’ that are actually not teams at all, just a group of people. They have no clear direction, no goal, no sections, no communication, no accountability and, in short, no one leading them to their potential.

In hospitality, and in the current climate of a saturated market where customers are literally spoiled for choice, there is only one game to play. It has to be an A game, and you can’t afford any gaps in the play.

There are examples of poor leadership all around us, but in a cafe it means there will be dysfunction in the team vibe, the level of service and product quality will suffer, and systems won’t be followed, resulting in damage to your profitability, a drop in customer retention and an increase in staff turnover.

On the other hand, good leadership will align your business to give it the best chance of success. If you’re struggling or know someone who is struggling in this area, the course can be can be quite easily corrected with some tools of empowerment, the creation and adherence to systems, clarity around expectations, accountability and, importantly, a positive mindset that embraces a culture of review and realignment.

I’m continually amazed at how quick the wins are when a leader steps into their power, and the results feed directly in to sales, improved team engagement and customer retention, and make your cafe a nicer place to be for everyone.

Takeaway Points

1. Set and share your vision for the business and use it to map out practical goals with clear time frames
2. Build individual KPIs that align with the goals you have created, and build a culture of accountability within your team
3. Keep the map close at hand, reference it, realign the course as needed
4. Believe in yourself