Fix the system NOT the people



As Seen In
by in Systems
September 29, 2016 0 comments

This a slightly tricky (it was for me anyway) concept to accept, especially when you’re in the eye of the storm and an employee has just made the mother of all “mess ups” for about the sixth time.  The core reaction can easily be…

Do these idiots learn nothing?  How many times do I have to tell them?

It would be fair to say I may have uttered words of a similar nature in my early days as an employer and I hear variations on that theme, on a very regular basis, when I’m conducting one-on-one days with clients.  Often I’m met with something along the lines of…

training doesn’t work – they just go straight back to doing it their own way the next day

The reality is training does work.  In fact, it’s an absolutely essential piece of the jigsaw that is a successful coffee shop.  But you must see it within the context of an overall system – a system that YOU take full responsibility for.  And if you can think of every problem as a problem with the system (that you’ve put in place) then you’ll make your life a lot less frustrating and the business, within a relatively short period of time, a much easier entity to manage.

The key message to have in mind is, when something goes wrong, is “How can we ensure this doesn’t happen again?  How can I put a system or process in place to ensure that it won’t continue to occur?”

Let’s assume you have an issue with a particular employee who can’t seem to get a menu item, perhaps a toasted sandwich, out on time and customers are increasingly frustrated.  When you treat the problem as a system you start at the beginning and systematically look for answers.

Begin by looking at the core product you’ve created and the equipment you’ve allocated to deliver it.  Can it actually be consistently produced on time?  Does your panini grill consistently work properly?  Perhaps it needs a service?  Should you consider investing in better and faster equipment such as Merrychef?  Do you need a second machine to cope with busy periods?

A core part of your product development process should involve an understanding of the operational factors that are involved with getting the product out on time – regardless of how delicious the new item might seem when initially created.  If it’s going to slow down the average speed of service to the customer it shouldn’t be on the menu -= simple as that.  Don’t forget that, in our recent consumer research with Caffe Culture, a major reason for customers choosing not to return to their favourite coffee shop was slow service!

But let’s assume your core product is good and can actually be produced on time.  Now we look at the training process for the employee – we don’t just assume he’s an “idiot who can’t get it right” we see whether he has actually been shown exactly how to produce it.  Has he been through a training process whereby he had to produce a “perfect” panini before he was allowed to put it in front of a customer?  Does he confidently believe he can do that?  If not, then you need to look at your training system.  You need to revise it so that this doesn’t happen again.

Again let’s assume that he has been through a decent training process and can produce a perfect panini within the specified time.   Now we look at the operational systems that are in place to help him out.  Is the machine always warmed up to full temperature at the correct time?  Is there a checklist to ensure this?  Perhaps the main problem is simply that nobody sees it as their job to turn the machine on at the right time.  What else might slow him down?  Positioning of plates, napkins, salad garnish or issues with the packaging of the panini itself might all need to be addressed.

The next stage is to look at what else might be happening operationally at the same time.  Is this just one of about five jobs that he’s expected to do?  What does he see as a priority?  Perhaps (as is very often the case) he sees coffee as his number one priority and food a distant second.  Or maybe it’s a more menial issue – it might be that you’ve shifted the priorities towards clearing tables and away from making food.  If there’s any confusion here, you need to clear it up and provide a new set of priorities that go into your training and systems.

Finally, if we’ve checked all of the above, and there is no real issue we have to look at the employee himself.  Only now do we start to point the finger.  Maybe he’s genuinely just not up to the job?  The problem here is that once more the finger has to be pointed back at you – not him!  You employed him or gave somebody else (that you employed) the responsibility to do so.  You created (or perhaps didn’t) the trial period that would show up any issues so that he would be let go before there were consistent problems and customers were being regularly let down.

So, now you have to go back to your recruitment and induction processes and ensure that these problems don’t arise again.  And, frustratingly, you’ll also have to go through the discipline process and system to remove him!  But again, to be crystal clear, this is only if you have exhausted all other avenues to ensure that your system is correct to begin with.  This is a last resort.

The big advantage of this way of thinking is that you remove a blame culture within your business.  Staff stop worrying about “getting in trouble” or covering up mistakes and pretending everything is okay when it clearly isn’t.  They come to you with the issues and, if you’ve trained them properly, they also bring ideas that can change the system to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *