Darius started out as a short order cook, then a head cook for a restaurant chain before he decided he could start his own restaurant.
Darius wanted his restaurant to focus on Greek Cuisine. After saving up $100,000 of his own money and finding a few eager investors who offered an additional $200,000, Darius was in business. He leased a place that was in a busy part of town and opened his doors with high hopes.
As a startup, Darius didn't feel like he could afford to pay his staff much until his place was established. He advertised for positions on Craigslist; and hired seven servers, three cooks, two hostesses, two busboys and two dishwashers.
When they first started, the place was new, and Darius did a good job of marketing. After the newness wore off, it seemed like the workload slowed down a bit. Then it slowed down a lot! One of the younger servers told Darius that he should probably check out what his customers were saying about his restaurant on Yelp. Darius was shocked by what he read...
"The service is great, but the food was awful. I won't come back here again!"
"The food tasted like it was made at a fast-food joint and not a Greek bistro."
"It took an hour to get our meal. It was cold and tasted awful! I'm not coming back, nor should you."
The overall Yelp rating for Darius's Greek Bistro was 2 stars. This couldn’t be! Darius had received compliments on his work as a cook in all his previous restaurants. Upon more inspection of Yelp, he noticed that most of the negative comments were happening when he wasn’t in the restaurant. He decided he needed to stick around to see how the other cooks were preparing meals.
When he watched the other cooks, he noticed they weren’t following his recipes. They seemed to have an attitude problem. He noticed one of his cooks taking a smoke-break right in the middle of the dinner rush. He was furious. Here he had risked all that he had to start this restaurant; and a few lazy cooks were going to ruin his dream. He asked a few of his rogue cooks to meet with him. Darius proceeded to chew them out. He told them he was prepared to fire them if they didn't clean up their act.
The performance of the restaurant improved slightly after Darius had his harsh meeting with his cooks. However, he still received reports from his servers that chefs were slacking off when Darius was not around. On top of all of this, Darius's restaurant was losing money. His investors were upset that they were giving Darius cash for his losses monthly. This was not the picture Darius painted for his investors only a few months ago.
Jim was one of Darius's investors. Jim was a loyal customer who knew Darius when he worked for other restaurants and knew that Darius could be an amazing restaurateur. However, he also knew that Darius had no business ownership experience. Jim asked Darius to talk with a business coach he knew called Coach Russ. Jim’s request was more of a command than a request. He informed Darius that he would not give him another penny unless he hired Coach Russ.
Russ had an office not far from Darius's restaurant, and he met with Darius in his office for their initial consultation. It was clear that Darius was stressed. His eyes were blood-shot, and he was noticeably frazzled.
After the small talk and introductions, Russ asked, "What brings you to me?"
Darius responded, "Jim told me that if I don't seek out business coaching, he won't give me money to continue my business."
"Got it. Why does your business continue to need investment?"
Darius reacted, "You're a business coach, you should know that a startup business needs capital to get going."
Russ smiled, "Yes, companies do require capital to start. Did you get any startup capital from your investors?"
"Yes, but it wasn't enough."
"How much capital did you feel you would need at this stage of your business?"
Darius now seemed a little ashamed, "I guess I underestimated how much money it would take. We should have been making a profit by now instead of losing money."
"What do you think is causing your losses?"
Darius was tired of pretending that his only problem was investment capital. He knew that his restaurant was failing. He shared with Russ about the terrible Yelp reviews; and his cooks that didn't seem to take his business seriously. Russ could see that Darius was feeling the pain of his first business ownership experience. He could also see that Darius felt like there was no way out of his situation.
Russ offered, "Darius, I know that you’re going through some struggles right now; but I assure you that Jim wouldn't have invested in you, unless he saw some potential. "
Darius burst out, "I don't know what else I can do. I'm working so hard on this business. I spend all my time at the restaurant because I don't trust my cooks, or servers or anyone! Still, my customers give us bad reviews. On top of all of that, my investors are saying they want to pull the plug, if I can't turn things around. I have no idea how you can help me."
Russ could see that Darius needed hope, "Let's take a deep breath and look at your restaurant business objectively. It seems like you need to make a profit to stay in business. To make a profit, you need more customers. To get more customers, you need better ratings on Yelp. To get better ratings on Yelp, you need to fix your food quality. To fix your food quality, you need to get your cooks to care about their work. Right?"
"Yeah! That's right. But how can I get deadbeat cooks to care about my customers when I'm not there?"
"Let's work on that. I want to introduce you to this concept called 'Energy'. Energy is the general attitude that your workers will adopt based on the way you manage them."
"Energy? I need to make a profit to pay my investors. I don't need some odd psychology."
Russ smiled, "You need your cooks to care about your restaurant as much as you do. Right?"
"I suppose. But what does ‘Energy’ have to do with it?"
"Let me quickly explain what I'm talking about. Energy comes in seven different levels. The higher the level, the less you 'll have to micro-manage your cooks; and the more responsibility they will take on their own."
"Ok. Teach me about Energy."
"As I mentioned, there are seven levels of energy. Level 1 is Victim energy. At Level 1, your cooks will feel like customers are abusing them and you are controlling them. As a victim, you feel like you have no options but to deal with substandard work from your cooks."
Darius was taking notes as Russ continued, "Level 2 is Conflict energy. When you chewed out your cooks, you demonstrated this next level of energy threatening them if they didn't do their job right. Level 3 is Acceptance energy. This means that instead of confronting your problems, you ignore them, and hope things improve on their own. This is what you demonstrated when you told me about your losses. You decided that having losses instead of profits is just part of starting a business."
Darius interrupted, "Oh. C’mon! You know that businesses aren’t going to be profitable right off the bat."
"That’s true to a point. However, deep down inside, you know something’s wrong. In fact, you said to me that your cooks don’t care about your restaurant as much as you. Right?”
Russ continued, “Level 4 energy is Compassion. At this level, you’ll have a better sense of what is going on in the lives of your employees. When you empathize with your employees, you can help them; and in-turn, they’ll most likely care more about your restaurant."
Darius laughed, "I doubt it. I'm giving them a job. A job they’re doing poorly I might add. They're lucky I don't fire them."
"I understand your anger. Let me continue through the remaining levels. I think you'll better understand how energy can benefit your restaurant."
"Got it. Go ahead."
"Level 5 energy is Opportunity, or win/win. You start to connect the hopes and dreams of your employees with your hopes and dreams as a restaurateur. Your employees will win, your customers will win, and you will win. Level 6 energy is Synergy. You want to create an amazing experience for your customers while also creating wealth and enjoyment for your staff. At level 6, you’re focused on workplace culture. Level 7 energy is total awareness. If you could achieve this high level of energy, you would never have to set foot in your restaurant again. Your staff would be taking ownership and running it on their own. You could then think about duplicating your restaurant's success in another town."
Darius looked up from his notepad, "This all sounds great. But I have no idea how I can turn my deadbeat cooks into people who care about my business."
"You may not be able to change them; but in almost all my client's cases, they were able to change their personal behavior which ended up changing the work environment; which ended up creating business success."
Darius and Russ talked for an hour. At the end of the hour, Russ gave Darius some homework for their next coaching session. Darius needed to develop seven statements that illustrated what his restaurant work environment would look like at each energy level. Russ also asked Darius to talk with his employees to get a better sense of what they needed out of their job at the restaurant.
Darius had changed by the time he came to Russ's office for his second visit. He still looked a little tired, but there was a sense of hope in his demeanor.
Russ asked, "How did your homework go?"
Darius handed Russ a sheet of paper, "I did what you said about the energy levels. I don’t know if I did it right?"
Russ read the paper and here’s what it said...
Level 1 - If you want something done right, do it yourself
Level 2 - I constantly must correct the work my people do.
Level 3 - I guess my people will make mistakes. No biggy. We’re doing the best we can.
Level 4 - How can I train my people to do quality work?
Level 5 – I’ll tie compensation to quality of work so that my employees will be positively incentivized.
Level 6 - How do I create a culture that empowers my people; and ensures that decisions are made at the lowest level possible?
Level 7 - I want to work myself out of a job completely so that my staff is on autopilot; and I can move on to duplicate our success.
Russ remarked, "You did an excellent job, Darius. How did you feel as you completed this list?"
Darius smiled, "I felt better as I wrote down each higher level."
"Great! How did your second homework assignment go?"
Darius hesitated as his eyes teared up, "I was so caught up in my own drama of starting my restaurant, I was oblivious to the pain that some of my cooks were going through."
"One of my cooks, Julio, told me his wife was leaving him. In fact, his wife told him that she wanted a divorce on the same day that I chewed him out for taking an inappropriate smoke break. Apparently, his wife called him during our dinner rush. That's why he took the break."
"If you knew about Julio's troubles, how would you have acted differently on that day?"
"I could have at least asked him why he took the smoke break during our rush hour; rather than assuming he was a lazy employee who didn't care about my restaurant."
"Awesome, Darius. A big part of moving up in the energy levels we talked about is letting go of judgement. The more we judge others; and the less we try to understand them, the less effective we are as leaders."
Darius nodded in approval, "What can I do with all of this information to turn around my restaurant?"
"That’s a great question! I'm going to ask you a question in return. You've gotten so good at understanding these energy levels. You've told me what Level 5 looks like. How do you create a Level 5 workplace in your restaurant? And how does that help you become profitable?"
Darius smiled, "I've thought about this since we met last week. I think that I can tie my employee's paycheck to our Yelp reviews. I thought I could give double credit for an employee who can turn a negative review into a positive review."
"Excellent idea, Darius. What’s the win for you?"
"If we can get these reviews turned around, we'll get more customers. On top of that, I’ll have employees who are taking ownership of their actions, so I don't have to tell them what to do all the time."
"Great job, Darius! I think you're on the right track. Your homework for next week will be to implement your idea. I'm curious to hear how it works."
Darius continued to change things week by week.
He learned how to delegate responsibility to his staff and give them a win that would result in a win for his restaurant. He was pleasantly surprised when Julio took the initiative to write a response to a customer who made one of the negative Yelp reviews.
Here’s what it said… "I apologize for your slow service, sir. I was the cook that day, and I was going through some personal struggles. I would love to buy you a free meal, for you and your family to show you how our service and quality have improved."
The customer came back and had an enjoyable experience. They deleted their bad review and wrote a 5-star review that could have been framed.
The average rating on Yelp increased from 2-stars to 4.5 stars within the next three months. Over the next year, Darius's restaurant went from losing $2,000 per month to making a profit of $9,000 per month. On top of that, Darius bragged that his staff were the best paid employees in town.... and they were worth it.
Darius's success brought with it a few more decisions. Would he buy out his investors? or Would he seek investment to open a second restaurant? Only a year ago, he was thinking he would have to close his doors because 'he couldn't find good help'.... and all he needed was to shift the energy level in his restaurant.
Let’s break down the lessons that Darius learned in our story.
There are three basic lessons that I was trying to convey with the story of Darius and Coach Russ: 1) Expert transition to manager; 2) Energy concepts; and 3) Delegation.
Let’s talk about the first lesson of transitioning from an expert to a manager. It is quite common for people who are good at their profession to start a business. Chefs will start restaurants. Plumbers will build plumbing contracting companies. Engineers will create engineering firms.
While this is common, it comes with it a certain dysfunction. Expert professionals find it hard to let go of their profession and then manage and teach others to do their profession. In Darius’s case, he was a good chef. He had his recipes and his way of doing things that he tried to impart on his cooks. When he started getting the bad reviews, he reacted.
As an expert, we respect our trade and when we transition to manager, we need to respect the tradesmen or women. What I mean by that is other people will be doing the trade, and you need to manage those people, not directly micro-manage their work.
This brings up the second topic of energy. The energy concepts that I illustrated in this story are taught by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching or iPEC. As an engineer, I was brilliant at designing and refining systems. But when it came to managing other engineers, I got frustrated that they didn’t seem to get the engineering principles I thought they should know.
The fact is that people aren’t machines. People have lives outside of work and even in work act and react based on emotion and overall life situations. The best way to convey this to most business owners is to use the language of energy that I described in this story.
When you understand these concepts of core energy, you then can help people instead of improving your trade. In Darius’s case, once he connected with Julio and empathized with his situation, Julio responded in kind. In practice, this turned a 2-star Yelp rating into a 5-star rating.
This brings up our third topic of delegation. Once Darius created trust among his employees, they felt like he cared about them. His trusting cooks responded by taking the initiative they needed to help his restaurant become profitable.
When any company creates this culture of mutual benefit, employees win, customers win, and the business owner wins. This is the secret-sauce that is needed for delegation to work.
I hope you learned a few things from Darius’s story. If you’d like to learn more about me or my business coaching practice, I invite you to check us out at www.mmbizcoach.com . Until next week, I wish you the best with your business.
I write a blog post and record a podcast weekly. I write/talk on business advice, small business turn around stories, political interaction with business, business mindset and spiritual intersection with business matters. If you want to get email reminders when I post something new, please sign up.