Foster stronger relationships and boost productivity with this easy method.

Before I came to FSR, I was a salesfloor and then human resources manager for a major retailer, and I was also responsible for the management of a national coffee chain. In these roles, my job was to ensure operations were running smoothly, that our employees served our customers, and that everyone in the building was safe. Any manger will tell you that is easier said than done, especially when the store or the restaurant is busy and employees don’t always follow procedures.

These little gaps can mean the difference between making sales goals for the day or being woefully behind. They can also lead to safety issues, lost customers, and slower operations that put the whole team behind, especially in peak hours. When this occurs, it is easy to get frustrated and forget that most employees want to do well at work.

Though it isn’t always easy to find the time to talk to employees, feedback conversations are a vital part of keeping a customer-facing business running smoothly. Employees who don’t know they are doing something wrong or don’t know that their manager cares about those actions won’t improve without feedback.

But having feedback conversations doesn’t have to be hard for you or your employees. Instead of scolding employees, you can make the focus of the conversation improvement, and that can lead to increased productivity and sales.

Here are a few tricks I learned as a manager that can make these conversations both easier to handle and more effective.

1. Coach on the Spot

Performance conversations are much more impactful if you have them when the problem occurs. Did you see a server fail to mention specials to a customer? Don’t wait until the end of the night or the next day to let him or her know. Not only will the employee probably not remember that specific guest interaction, but also waiting until the end of the shift can cost the business money. When you correct performance immediately, the employee can begin fixing that behavior, which can mean the difference in a few more high-dollar sales.

2. Ask Questions

Don’t go into performance conversations with accusations. Start by explaining what you observed by focusing on specific behaviors, and then start asking questions about why those actions occurred. You might be surprised by how many times performance issues have nothing to do with negligence or laziness but are actually tied to other factors, such as exhaustion from home-life stressors or some fundamental misunderstanding about job duties.

By asking your employees why something happened, you will show your employee that while you expect a job to be completed correctly, you also care about him or her. It may also help you uncover underlying issues that contribute to that employee’s behaviors, such as understaffing, which makes it harder to complete the right behaviors; a lack of training, which makes job duties unclear; or other issues you can address to make life in your restaurant better.

3. Explain the Impact

Once you understand the cause, explaining the impact of individual actions helps make it clear to employees that what they do affect other people and the bottom line.

Did an employee forget to fill out the temperature log? You may find that your employees who only work one or two nights a week don’t understand why temperature logs are important, so when they get busy, they forget or fail to complete them. But if you explain that not only will the health department look for temperature logs, but failing to fill them out could lead to a food safety incident in which consumers get sick, your employees are a lot more likely to correct their behaviors.

4. Be Specific About How Employees Can Improve and Plan Together

Giving employees specific ways to improve is one of the biggest keys to a successful coaching conversation. It isn’t enough to tell an employee that he or she is not completing a task correctly; you must also explain what you expect when he or she is faced with that task the next time.

Rather than telling your employee to be more pleasant when he or she runs food to a table, for example, explain that the employee needs to make eye contact, smile, and greet guests. This will help resolve the issue quicker, and it will help employees focus on the right behaviors.

Sometimes it might also be helpful to ask the employee what would make it easier for him or her to follow the right actions. If he or she is failing to get a ladder to pull boxes down from high shelves, maybe moving the ladder closer to the storage closet will help. By making a plan together, you can ensure you both understand what is expected in the future and find ways to make life easier for your team.

5. Follow Up and Recognize Positive Behaviors

While these coaching conversations will help your employees change behaviors, simply telling them there is a problem usually isn’t enough. You must continue to coach incorrect behaviors, but more importantly, recognize employees when they take the right steps to reinforce positive behavior.

Though no manager likes correcting employee performance, when handled well, coaching conversations can benefit both operations and the employee-manager relationship. Try to use those moments as an opportunity to help employee growth, rather than as a scolding, and you may be surprised at how well your team will start to perform.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees