Is Management an Outdated Technology?

I just spent two fabulous afternoons with people who make my world go round – Restaurant Managers! I must admit I have this incredible love and respect for anyone who runs a restaurant. I have spent my entire career in the biz and I can’t even begin to count the number of valued relationships I have with restaurant operators.

Until recently, I have never been responsible for running shifts. I spent the majority of my career in marketing and HR for 3 different restaurant companies. My marketing background is anything but traditional. I learned everything I know about marketing on the street.

I graduated from college with a degree in Euchre and a minor in Budweiser. Actually I scraped by in four years with a BS in Education (more BS than education). Needless to say, when I got out of school I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the marketing shed. However I did learn something right out of the box that has helped me achieve success as a marketer in the restaurant business. Trust me there is no drum roll necessary when I announce that the key to great marketing is execution in the restaurant. Please don’t stop reading. I know this is more obvious than a Baby Boomer at a Jay-Z concert. However, it never ceases to amaze me how many companies seem to ignore this basic premise.

Back to my beloved restaurant managers… When I look around a room full of them I see the core of the American workforce. Hard working dedicated task masters who typically spend too many hours working and not enough hours with their families. When you ask them how they got into the business, nine out of ten will tell you that it just happened, it was never their intention. For many of them the old school approach has been the foundation for their success. Work hard, master the tasks, manage the P&L, get promoted. A logical progression…until now!

From my perspective the model that worked in the past is no longer viable. We can no longer command and control our way to prosperity in the restaurant business. I think this excerpt from Daniel Pink’s book DRIVE sheds some light on this subject:

Big Idea: Management is an outdated technology. (Gary) Hamel likens management to the internal combustion engine – a technology that has largely stopped evolving. Put a 1960’s- era CEO in a time machine and transport him to 2010, Hamel says, and that CEO “would find a great many of today’s management rituals little changed from those that governed corporate life a generation or two ago.” Small wonder Hamel explains. “Most of the essential tools and techniques of modern management were invented by individuals born in the 19th century, not long after the end of the American Civil War.” The solution? A radical overhaul of this aging technology.

We have a saying at TR… “Organizations hire for the position but the whole person comes to work”. While we can get away with just running shifts in short term, if we are looking for long term success it requires a different approach. As leaders we must invest in our people and I’m not talking about spending more money. I’m suggesting that restaurant managers spend more time with their team members understanding what they want out of their experience with us and what is important to them outside of work. I believe it’s our job as restaurant managers (leaders) to understand our team members’ goals, dreams and desires so that we can do our part to help them be successful. I don’t care if they are with us six days, six weeks or six years, it is worth our while to engage them and help them in their pursuit of a happy, fulfilling life.

Okay, I have been accused of being fluffy in the past, however the more I read and the more I understand what motivates humans, I think organizational leaders (including restaurant managers) should at least consider my point of view. In today’s environment we need to grow our people if we want to grow our business. For many organizations this requires a significant cultural change.

I will finish with a quote from Pink’s book DRIVE as additional food for thought (pardon the pun)…

Perhaps it’s time to toss the very word ‘management’ into the linguistic ash heap alongside ‘icebox’ and ‘horseless carriage.’ This era doesn’t call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.”

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  • Bill - I agree. Forget about location. It's all about the people. Managers lose focus because their money is based on profitability - bonuses, praise from their boss etc. Smart companies focus on culture, making it a great place to work where employees know they are cared about. There has to be something we can learn (and apply) from companies like Zappos. I listened to an interview with CEO Tony Hsieh last night and was totally inspired. Always appreciate your comments Bill. Look forward to the day we meet in person. Enthusiastically Yours, BC
  • Thank you Chase. Great to know I have a brother in the fray. The stuff we are talking about has been referred to as "soft skills" or worst case fluff. I hear you about being laughed at or dismissed for the notion that "Lead/a/gers" need to make the relationships and their People P&L a top priority. Things are changing so rapidly our industry has got to "get on the stick". Let's keep talking. Enthusiastically BC
  • Wow Bill, In my day I've had a conflict or two with the folks in marketing, as they have had a bone to pick with my operations fellows - But never have I been teed up so nicely as this blog.

    If you are running a hospitality operation - you are both a leader and a manager. Hence, Lead/a/gers -(my company) One entire professional life (mine) has been devoted to raising the game (expectations/realizations/results) of hospitality managers. I have been laughed at, and ignored, but the performance of true "leadagers" always led to them making more money for themselves and our respective companies. I don't know if I can change the "old school" - but thanks for starting a new thought-wave for me to ride.
  • Hi Bill,

    Great article!
    One of my early mentors told me something that has proven over the years to be very sound advice:
    "You will become a successful restaurant manager if you will only keep 3 priorities straight." "These 3 things must be first and foremost your greatest priorities." "Never loose site of these 3 pillars." "They will be your light when things get tough."

    They are:
    #1 People
    #2 People
    #3 People.
  • Thanks for the comment David. I couldn't agree with you more.
  • Fantastic, Bill! "Management" often conveys process and people generally hate process. It's the real-life, day-to-day relationships that have true impact. Leading with a flexible focus and valuing one another will inspire advancement...collectively and individually.
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