Can You Believe This One?

This one is one for the books. My PhD dissertation looks into what motivates employees to do what they do inside of an organization, where some of what employees do within an organization can be related to how leadership actually leads. In other words, is it an organization’s leadership that guides employees to do what they do or is it employees’ own self-awareness of right from wrong that motivates employees to do what they do inside of an organization?

On Friday November 23, 2012 I visited 59 Diner on Sheppard in Houston Texas as I do once in a while for a late breakfast. This particular visit was very interesting for me for as I recieved my order of eggs, bacon, and wheat toast I noticed small white hairs on the toast and before I had time to say something to the waitress, she was gone! My meal was delivered by a different waitress other than my original waitress who entered my order, which by the way did not come back to check on me for the rest of my visit. Realizing my orignal waitress was not coming to me to check up on my needs, I hailed a different waitress who just happened to walk by. The restaurant was not busy (in my opinion) compared to other days I had visited this particular location of this restaurant chain. I mentioned to this particular waitress that there was an issue with my toast as she picked up the plate of toast and said, “I’m sorry, did they butter your toast and you didn’t want butter”? I said no and that there were blonde hairs on each slice of the toast and I would like a new order of toast. She looked closer at the toast and said, “oh yes, there are hairs on there” and immediately dumped the plate of toast behind the counter (I was seated at the counter as I always do when visiting this restaurant) and she walked away.

I assumed she heard me ask for a new order of toast so I decided to watch her to determine how long it would take her to; 1) put new toast in the toaster, and 2) notify her manager there was a potential food issue. As a student of human behavior I passed the time by watching her to see when she would do one of the two items above or both. I assumed she would do both at the same time but I also wondered what the message from 59 Diner’s leadership regarding potential food problems was to employees. I also question what 59 Diner’s procedure is in correcting customer complaints of food issues because up to this point (20 minutes) she had done nothing to notify her manager or replace my order of toast. Remember, the restaurant was not as busy as I have seen it in the past (in my opinion) so I really don’t know what might have made her forget to do two very important things (above) based on my issue. The funniest thing of all was that I was sitting at the counter in front of everyone so it’s not like she forgot about me. Every time she walked back to get her other orders from the cook window or make a shake she could see me – I think, unless she simply tuned me out.

As I sat there wondering when I would get my new toast (I had finished my breakfast by this time) I was trying to figure out what those blonde hairs could have been when it hit me! They spread butter on the toast with a paint brush and the bristles of the brush are being left on the toast! Yuck, those bristles are synthetic and are not digestible! WTF!!

After about 35 minutes I realized I had to say something, anything so I asked the waitress who originally took my toast away where my new order of toast was and she very apologetically said she would bring me a new order. I stopped her from doing that and asked if she ever figured out what the blonde hairs might have been. She said no of course because she was really busy and totally forgot about me, my toast, and the blonde hair. Really, too busy to address a food issue? I mentioned to her that I am from Los Angeles where in that county, restaurants get an A, B, or C grade by County Health officials relative to the cleanliness and overall health of an eatery (including taco trucks). I mentioned to her that had this happened in Los Angeles County, I would complain and have the restaurant closed for ten days until the issue is corrected (I do not work for Los Angeles County but I am familiar with their policies because L.A. County Health officials are transparent about eatery grading – I am merely speculating as to the duration if any in closing an eatery). So I asked her, “Can you afford to be out of work for ten days”? She of course said no. I explained to her that maybe the blonde hair on my toast may have been from the bristles on the paint brush they use and she said, “Yes, maybe; it’s been there for a long time”. I asked if there is a time frame in which the paint brushes should be replaced and she said, “I think managers are supposed to do that”. I mentioned to her that I doubt her manager knew anything regarding the paint brush or my toast because she never said anything to him about it as I have been watching her. She admitted that she was too busy to have mentioned my issues to her manager. At this point I thought to help and said to her very direct and sternly, “go over there and throw the paint brush away – I want to see you throw the paint brush away”. She easily walked over to the small stainless steel bin where the paint brush is housed (and residual butter sits) and threw them away (she found two paint brushes in the small bin). She came back to me to apologize again and I told her not to worry but I did ask her if she thought there might be fallen bristles in the stainless steel bin from the paint brushes as well. She said, “oh yes, that’s right”! I directly and firmly asked her again to go over to the bin and dump it out which she did. She came back to me after dumping the stainless steel bin and I asked her if she felt better that she finally took care of something that should have been done in the first place. I mentioned to her that her action will now force management to replace the old paint brushes with new paint brushes because she threw out the old ones. Again, she mentioned that sort of maintenance is typically up to management where I praised her for doing a good thing regardless of her role within this unit’s organizational structure and that she not only should support management by looking for things like this, but should be aware that food safety is more important that corporate policy. I further explained, “your manager has no clue the paint brushes needed to be changed or he would have done it by now (I assume, or he is a terrible leader)”, where she noticed it and didn’t do anything about it either. Not good. In my opinion, this organization has serious quality control issues as well as poor leadership and poor training.

Just then, a second waitress approached us both as she overheard my comments and agreed that the paint brushes needed to be changed but didn’t say anything. Just then the waitress I had been talking to came out of nowhere to say, “I actually noticed it earlier but thought the hair was from the older waitresses working the earlier shift”. Really! And she still did nothing!! You have got to be kidding me!! Why doesn’t Houston have a restaurant grading program?

By this time, the manager joined the conversation but not with me. He quietly asked the first waitress what we were talking about and he nodded his head saying, “good you threw the paint brush away, I meant to replace that earlier so I will do it now”. Really? He didn’t even acknowledge me.

So what is wrong with this story (yes, this really happened)? How does an organization get like this or am I too rigid that I expect better from not only the place I eat but from employee behavior? I have to admit that in my organization of 80+ employees my managers and I miss a couple of quality control items every now and then, but then again we are not preparing food nor do we prep food right in front of the customer as they do at 59 Diner (we make metal enclosures). Is it possible for an organization to be 100% accurate in quality control, management, or even training? Should organizations spend more time and money on their leaders or spend more time and money training employees?

I have to say that in my over twelve years of consulting small and medium size businesses and managing an organization of 80+ employees I hope to never have a customer notice such a glaring issue (health issue) such as I witnessed at 59 Diner. I also hope that those business owners and managers who might happen upon this blog take heed of its message which is a message I preach to my clients and my own employees all the time, “never believe this organization is that well structured or that well organized that it could do no wrong because there is always opportunity to improve something”.

I challenge the leadership at 59 Diner to respond to this blog by writing a comment and I also welcome thoughts and ideas from other managers and business owners as to how you motivate employees to do their best. If you want to know how I create positive motivation for my employees you are more than welcome to visit my office in Houston to see for yourself. Unscripted, unrehearsed and unedited, my employees would be more than happy to share their experiences.

One Response to Can You Believe This One?

  1. Greg Haug says:

    Luis, some additional, related thoughts: In addition to discovering and nurturing an employees intrinsic motivation, I think it is important that management have the experience and wisdom to be able to identify *if* an employee is essentially capable of desired growth – or more simply put, does the employee “get it” or not. In each management position I have held it has been reasonably easy to classify employees in the “get it” or “doesn’t get it” groups. In my opinion, management needs to make this identification early in order to avoid spending time, effort, and thus money, training someone that is for all intents and purposes, un-trainable. As managers, we need to make employee investments that will pay off for the company.

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