Guest post from our friends over at Humanity.

Small business owners, especially restaurateurs, often cringe at the simple thought of giving up control in their eatery. This reaction is completely understandable. You’ve invested everything in this restaurant and you’re treated its growth as if it were your child.

You’ve also probably gotten used to wearing several hats at the same time. You peek into the kitchen every now and then to give tips, you hang out in the front of the house and greet customers to make sure they are getting the experience that they desire. You’ve grown accustomed to having a say in everything that goes on in your establishment.

But letting go is a necessary part of the process. That is, if you want to see your restaurant grow. You can’t micro-manage every detail forever, right?

If you plan on growing your restaurant business, you are going to have to sacrifice some of this control in order to focus on the process. One of the key components to this is being able to grant your staff more independence.

Here’s are some good beginner tips for initiating the process.

Give Them a Say

When trying to manage a staff of hourly employees, things can get pretty messy if you lack a strong and clear process for scheduling their shifts. Restaurant workers are often students or people with families – workers who have other responsibilities in their personal lives that they need to schedule around their work shifts, which are almost never regular.

In such a situation, the first reaction would be to maintain absolute and unwavering control over the process. But in reality, that’s not the best way to go. Giving your employees a say into how their shifts are distributed not only empowers them, it also decreases the amount of work management has to put into this process.

More and more restaurants these days are ditching the antiquated methods of pen and paper or spreadsheets and choosing some type of online employee scheduling software instead. Using such a tool not only makes it easy for managers to create conflict-free shifts, it also gives employees more independence by making the feedback loop much smaller and improving communication across the board.

Whatever method you use, there’s two things that you should enable your employees to do: submit their work preferences/availabilities and request shift swaps and drops on their own.

Getting them involved in the process shows them that you care enough to give them the ability to provide their input into when and how they work. You’re not only giving them independence, you are building confidence and trust between management and staff at the same time.

Set and Goals and Measure Progress

When you are granting your staff more independence as far as their personal work tasks are concerned, you’re not simply letting go of the wheel and giving them absolute freedom to do as they please. You are entering a process of establishing trust and encouraging professional development.

The best way to do this is by sitting  down to talk about it first, and then setting work goals for each staff member. Setting goals is a process as well. It should be a collaborative one. You shouldn’t be the only person deciding what would be a good goal for your employee to try and achieve. Talk it out and see if you can agree on a fair and reasonably work goal to strive towards.

Set clear goals and then check in with them periodically to see whether or not they are achieving them. You could, for example, set a goal for servers to increase their upsells by 20 percent over the course of several months and then meet with them regularly to see how they are doing and if they need any help.

Accept Failure as an Option

If they aren’t achieving the goals you’ve set, don’t give up on them right away. Offer guidance to help them reach these plateaus. Failure is a very real and expected part of the process when you’re trying to make your employees more independent. Learn to accept the inevitability of failure and strive to make sure that both you and your employees are learning from every mistake made along the way.

If an employee is starting to forge his or her own path, missteps along the way are bound to happen. It’s your job to make sure that they don’t get discouraged. One of the greatest misconceptions about working towards employee independence is that managers should simply get out of the way. That’s absolutely untrue.

The reality is that the manager will still be very involved and hands on with the employee, but in a different way than before. Instead of barking out orders and monitoring your employee’s every move, you must not give him or her room and become a safety net. Let your employees know that you support them and that you are ready to step in and help whenever you’re needed.  

Expand Comfort Zones

There’s a fine line between building an employee’s confidence by increase their level of independence slowly and setting them up to fail by pushing them too far. One of the most important things to balance is the number of new things that are being introduced to the employee.

And while it’s incredibly important to push a staff member’s comfort zone in order to help that person learn and develop, it’s important to set limits as well.

Gaining independence on the job is all about pushing your comfort zone and engaging in responsibilities that are unfamiliar to you. But it’s equally important to expand that comfort zone slowly so that it doesn’t become too much to handle.

Once again, communicating with your staff members, providing constant feedback and being a mentor to them are all very important parts of this process.   

Supply the Tools

If you want your employees to be more independent, you need to give them the tools to achieve independence. Like in any profession, restaurant employees need to continuously develop new skills and knowledge if they want to get better at what they do and earn the trust of their employers.

Don’t hesitate to invest in courses, seminars or any other type of education for your employees, because you’re investing in the future success of your restaurant as much as you are investing in the individual employees.

Having the needed knowledge to increase their independence allows employees to push their comfort zones without hesitation and with greater confidence.

Conclusion

While there are many benefits that come with employee independence, one of the main benefits in the restaurant business specifically is that encouraging employees to be more proactive can also increase retention – a serious problem for many restauranteurs.

Employees want to feel as if they are an integral part of your establishment’s success. Independence can lead to innovation, and innovation can lead to improving your bottom line.

Furthermore, your best employees will seek independence and respond positively to increased responsibility and expanded roles. Letting them forge their own path will help by not only giving you more time to focus on the growth of your restaurant, it will also benefit your restaurant by engaging your best employees and inspiring them to stay with you instead of seeking new professional challenges elsewhere.

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