Inside Track by Peter Martin
They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The challenge these days is to get those working around you going too. That was a definite theme of last week’s Multi-Unit Leadership Workshop led by Jim Sullivan, one of the world’s most celebrated and inspirational restaurant gurus. The sell-out event, staged in London by Peach Factory, had 150-plus UK pub and restaurant group leaders glued to their seats for a full day’s session. Jim Sullivan may be American, and much of his experience based on working with top US chains, but the response of his British audience was testament in itself to the relevance of his message to both the current economic climate and the UK eating-out market. More pertinent than that, perhaps, was that his focus was on the practical rather than the theoretical. He is an ex-operator himself, with first hand experience of both success and failure. The day was about real issues and actions for creating and motivating the best teams, in particular that key level of management that in the US they label multi-unit managers, but in Britain are more likely to be called area mangers, regional managers or business development managers. They are a vital layer in any organisation, but one that is often taken for granted. The ALMR’s annual award scheme for the pub sector is conspicuous by being just about the only national recognition they receive. It seems that attitude might be no better in the US than in Britain - at least in some chains. Research shows they get less training time than any other management tier and their company induction may be no more than: “Here’s the keys. Here’s a manual from my old company. Call if you need me, but not after 9pm.” This is not the place to regurgitate all of Jim Sullivan’s words of wisdom – and there are plenty. You can get them yourself from his website, and I recommend you do have a look. (“Don’t practice on guests” is a particular favourite). It is the underlying message that is important to all operators, especially now. Perhaps the view that raised the most reaction was that ideally a multi-unit manager, or area manager, should have only six units to control, to allow them to spend a day in each every week. With 20 plus units to look after for many in the UK market that was a shock. That wasn’t Jim being prescriptive, however, merely reflecting the practice of the most profitable US players. But it made the point that every minute spent in your pubs or restaurants needs to be used productively. It shouldn’t just be about box ticking. There is nothing “fluffy” about the Sullivan approach. There is a toughness running through it. He reminded the audience that they shouldn’t be afraid to get rid of the deadwood, to sack them and not merely move them around. “Don’t rotate bald tyres!” He also repeated the point that this is about making money – something Americans are usually less shy about than we Brits. To paraphrase Tony Hughes, the former head of M&B restaurants and long-time friend of Jim Sullivan’s who introduced the event: “We’ve had it easy over the past 10 years or so, the hard work starts now”.