I was in one of four parties seated at the same time, in the same section, with the same server. You can imagine what happened. The first party served was oblivious to the tension building. The second party flagged down the server and demanded to place her order. The third party got visibly upset and told the second party that he was there first. To which she responded, “Well, you don’t have sugar diabetes.”
I was in the fourth party and felt the tension rise in this small corner of the restaurant. But as the story unfolded, I became amused at this dynamic that is all too familiar in the workplace. Some missed performance expectation locks the entire team into a weird dynamic of blaming, positioning, or withdrawing. If you are getting frustrated (or amused) by this dynamic at work, let’s look at four keys a leader can use to unlock performance issues.
Does the employee have the equipment, time, capacity, information and access to do the job? This poor server in our story was lacking in this area. He had the equipment and information to do the job – but with four parties at once he didn’t have the time or capacity to do a good job. However, he did have access to help as the host grabbed water and coffee to buy the server some time.
Does the employee have the skill, mentoring, feedback and opportunity to practice so they can become better at what they do? Even though his smile faded, this server knew to remain calm. The host knew to come and help share the load. That’s training and practice. Somewhere along the way there must have been some conversation about how to handle such situations.
Are there adequate policies, procedures and work instructions in place to ensure the employee knows what to do? Are the roles clear? I don’t have to work in the restaurant industry to know that seating four parties at once in the same section isn’t a great policy. When mistakes like this happen, it is always a good idea to look at policies and procedures and see what was missed or unclear. I do love that the host was clear on his role to jump in and help regardless of what may have been missed.
Is the employee in the right job? Do they feel empowered and rewarded in doing their job? Are other things in life impacting work? Answering these questions will get at what motivates performance. We learn about motivations by asking more than observing. However, when I saw the server’s tension, I assumed he was worried about losing tips (a performance reward). I assumed he felt empowered because his posture changed when the host jumped into help. His calm demeanor and kindness to his customers made me assume that he had handled this before.
When you notice a performance concern, it helps to break it apart and look for the key that will unlock the performance dynamic that creates tension on the team. In this situation resources and knowledge would be the keys I would explore further to unlock performance at this restaurant.