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High Touch Leadership vs. High Tech Systems

Published October 5, 2017

We live in amazing times. We have technology at our fingertips that allows us to schedule appointments, respond to messages, and get real time updates on our businesses in mere seconds. We live in a fast paced world and while that won’t change, we can do some intentional things to slow everything down just a bit, especially when it comes to developing our leaders.

With all of the style and flash of technology, recruiting in the restaurant industry has multiple platforms that helps managers and mult-unit leaders staff their operations. There are great e-learning platforms that will provide interactive training for your teams and track their progress. There are incredible inventory management and back office systems that will crunch numbers and deliver a real-time PNL with food cost, labor, other expenses, and the bottom line financial numbers.

I love technology as much anyone, and firmly believe that technology is an accelerator, not only in driving sales and traffic inside the four walls, but in helping to develop great people. But as great as technology is, there is no substitute for high touch leadership. There is great power in sitting down with a leader and helping them calculate food cost without the help of an inventory management system. There is a huge benefit to helping a leader take their PNL apart and figuring out what the opportunities are and matching those up with what they experience on a shift. There is a bigger impact when training programs are more shoulder-to-shoulder and side-by-side than sitting at a computer.

As I look back over my career as a leader in this industry it was the times that I sat down face to face, 1-1, with an hourly employee that made the most impact.

People want to be known. They want to share their hopes and dreams. They want to show you what they are working on. They want to contribute at a high level. They want to know what’s next for them, and how they can grow. When you take the time to work side-by-side with someone, and then follow that up with a conversation where you’re sitting across from them writing down what they are telling you, there is nothing more powerful. If there is a silver bullet in leadership development, it is this high tough approach. When you help someone calibrate their hopes and dreams, walk with them on their journey, lead the way, and provide coaching & feedback, there is nothing more meaningful. When you see them achieve the goal they’ve aspired to, there is nothing more inspiring.

There has never been a greater time to be a part of this great industry, with so many talented leaders coming up through the ranks of our organizations. The challenge is to make sure we are in a position to cultivate that talent and create opportunities for people that make them want to stay and grow with you, because there are more choices than ever for talented employees to lend their skills and abilities.

If technology is the accelerator in the restaurant industry, then our people are the engine. An accelerator does you no good if you don’t have an engine to make the trip. As concepts continue to pour more resources into building technology platforms, let’s make sure we are devoting as much of our time and financial resources as possible into building platforms that will benefit our people in all the ways we know that we need to do.

But more than anything, turn off your phone and make the time to sit with your people and just take it all in. Bask in the energy of that top performer sitting across from you and let them inspire you to do more, to be better, to make a difference. They need you to mentor them, to coach them, and to believe in them. But you need them more. Think back to when you were that young leader and someone invested in you. Think about the person(s) that helped you get to where you are today. Be that for as many people as you can and inspire them to do the same thing for other leaders.

When we talk about succession planning, growth, scalability, and building culture, the high touch approach to leadership development is the silver bullet.