Build your brand from within by creating an energized work environment

When was the last time you made an honest assessment of who you have in the most important "chairs" of your operation? Your front-line staff single-handedly sets the tone of your customer service and "packages" your performance day to day. Is your attracting or distracting? Does it gather customers, or chase them away?

Too often we de-emphasize the position of those on the front line. We start by mis-defining the job description. We assign titles such as counter help, cashiers, or register people. I'm not even sure the word "front-liner" captures the value of this position, but until we can give it the title it deserves, we'll use it.

Second, the criteria and standards we use for selecting our front-liners need to be set higher. Let's be honest: when applicants are few and far between, we desperately settle for "warm bodies." And when they are backed by low-energy leadership, the result often is flat-line performances.

During my 32 years as a multiunit Dairy Queen franchisee, I have stumbled upon some time-tested keys that can turn your front-liners into star performers - without reaching deep into your pockets. Please keep in mind that these energizing techniques are applicable to your entire staff, not just to those on your front-line.

For starters, we must believe that our bottom line is critically tied to our front-line. If we believe people are our most valuable asset, then we must investigate and implement programs that will foster a culture of reward and recognition in our business - and do it on a daily basis.

Customers who spend their hard-earned money in your store are not just expecting the visible exchange of money and product. They want an experience worth writing home about. It takes a well-synchronized and energized team to provide this sort of experience. Have you invested the time and in your people so they are equipped not only to make a transaction, but to transform that transaction into an encounter your customers won't forget? Consider the following ways to revive, motivate, and create a pulse so strong that it could possibly create media coverage!

Is your work environment lifeless?

If you provide a lifeless environment, expect the performance of your front-liners to follow suit. Take time to perform what I refer to as a "sensory check" of your business. At any given moment, what do your employees and customers see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and feel in your store? If you expect your people to do their best, you must give them the best environment to work in, and the best to do their jobs. Consider these points:

  • Create a fun, upbeat, and comfortable break or lunch facility.

  • Is your store décor full of life?

  • Evaluate the color and condition of your static clings and point-of-sale materials. Are they gathering dust or walking out the door?

  • Do you have adequate lighting and ventilation?

  • Do your uniforms have a sad, drab motif, or do they reflect pride for your brand?

  • Is the environment you maintain creating energy or inducing a coma?

Beyond duct tape

Unfortunately, within the service industry today we don't have to far to detect "duct tape" operators. This is management that invests minimal dollars to quick-fix a problem simply to get through another day of operation. This penny-smart and dollar-dumb mindset only precipitates a slow operational suicide.

Those of you who have been to Disney World may have noticed how much money they "waste." They clean every street in the entire park every day. Wouldn't once a week suffice? Ever notice that the flowers are always in bloom? Replanting every blooming flower three to five times a year seems like overkill, right? But armed with knowledge, Disney chooses to spend millions of dollars on air conditioning that blows out of open doors, daily cleaning regimens, and planting and replanting of flowers to provide guests with comfort. Disney finds thousands of ways for you to stay comfortable... and spending.

Disney has figured out that these operational excellence choices have more to do with than expense. Do you really think Disney gives a flying Tinker Bell that the door is open and the A/C is rolling out? They believe a comfortable customer is a spending customer. Okay, you and I are not Disney, but we strive for the same results: comfortable visitors that spend and return, and people that make us the employer of choice.

Recently, I conducted a nationwide survey to serve as feedback for my QSR book series, There's a Beehive by the Dumpster. I posed the question this way: "When you visit a QSR, what are some things that irritate you during your visit?"

A whopping 55 percent of those irritants were inconsistent and uncomfortable temperatures during their eating experience. Uncontrolled temperatures can produce stagnant and lifeless performances by your staff, not to mention your guests. This, along with other environmental factors, can become one of those "silent irritants" for your workers and cause sluggish performance.

Have you provided your employees with up-to-date, well-maintained equipment? They may not voice it, but employees care about properly functioning and clean equipment. I challenge you to replace a piece of old stainless steel, or a broom with little or no whiskers, and watch the excitement generated among your staff. Regular equipment updates, as well as bringing in new, demonstrates that you want to make their job and life easier.

Whether you are providing schedule flexibility or the best equipment for getting the job done, you are supplying an environment that makes for lower turnover and happy people. Just as your value/dollar menus are instrumental in driving consumers in, be cautious that your environment is not driving them out... along with your staff.

Lead them or lose them

Remember when you were a kid and played Follow the Leader? If you or your manager come to work today with your hat on backwards, or wearing a wrinkled uniform, I guarantee your staff will follow suit. If you come through the door with a hanging around your neck that reads, "I'm tired," you have inadvertently given permission for others to act likewise, thus creating an entire culture of sluggish performance.

A leader sets the tone for the entire organization. Many times, managers are clueless as to why their staff shows little or no respect for them. If this shoe fits, ask yourself if the words or actions you use in your business display integrity and professionalism? Have you earned the important advantage of respect? Do your words build up or tear down? Do you lead with a sense of fair play for your subordinates? Good leadership will enable and empower its people so that individual growth and development take place.

Start today by taking an honest assessment of your excitement level and your leadership. Better yet, have your staff evaluate your performance! Design a "no name required" questionnaire with three basic questions. For example:

  1. Do my actions as a leader motivate you?

  2. What are my strengths and weaknesses?

  3. What would make your work here more challenging, interesting, and fun?

This alone will serve as valuable feedback in critiquing your operation. Based on the answers, make it your goal to implement the changes necessary to create a renewed energy in your work environment.

Lighten up!

After recently surveying more than 250 young employees from a variety of QSRs, I've found that the top two things they are looking for in their job are fun and recognition. Yes, in that order. They are looking for more than a paycheck, and they want their work to be rewarded. It may be easy to understand, but a lot of employers still don't get it.

Fun is where it's at today, so lighten up! How does the fun factor rate in your operation? Newsflash! At every shift change, you should be distributing a blueprint for fun. Plan ahead what you're going to do for the incoming shift to set in motion an atmosphere of playfulness. Marc Plaisted, a fourth-generation Dairy Queen franchisee, placed a high priority on fun. Before every shift he would address his staff with a blueprint for laughter. Here is a sampling of one of his pre-shift pep talks:

"Today we - as a team - are going to make history! Yes! This team is about to set records, not only in sales, but in exceptional customer service! This calls for a warm-up. Close and tighten your fists. Now open them really fast. Extend and stretch those sales fingers. Let's give the thumbs some extra workout, as I have a feeling your performances today will generate a lot of thumbs-up. Next, we need to warm up our smiles. Take your left cheek... now lift and hold. Your lip should follow suit. Now lift your right cheek and complete your smile."

"These zany finger and cheek calisthenics cause outrageous laughter and high energy," he says. The criteria when implementing fun, he adds, should include:

  1. Keep it in good taste and non-offensive.

  2. Keep it short.

  3. Keep it practical.

Pick up the book, 1001 Ways To Energize Employees, by Bob Nelson. It is chock full of ideas, examples, and suggestions for increasing employee enthusiasm.

Karyn Buxman, a certified laughter leader and founder of HumorLab, says, "Humor is a serious business strategy in that funny is money. It's more important to see funny than be funny." Check her out at

So lighten up! Place some funny posters in your break room. Keep a digital camera in your store and take pictures of zany moments. Consider an employee-generated "once in awhile" newsletter. When job positions become monotonous, it is these types of store initiative "side tracks" that renew and restore the pulse in your team. Before your front-liners go on stage, rehearse laughter. Include the reciting of a humor pledge that your employees create, or smile calisthenics. Mirthful laughter is an instant mood changer. It lifts and connects. It prevents burnout and hardening of the attitudes.

The power of recognition

Every one of your staff is walking around with an invisible sign that reads, "I want to feel important."

Do you systematically make an effort to reward and recognize your employees? Few management concepts are as successful as positive reinforcement. How many people do you know who do not come alive from a dose of pure praise?

Make it a point to catch your employees doing good deeds and saying good things. Stand still and just listen. Do you hear anything praiseworthy? Use your peripheral vision (and hearing) throughout the day. See anything praiseworthy? If the answer is yes, then act! Praise should never be procrastinated.

Tell people what they did right, and be specific. Tell them how it made you feel, and how it contributes to the success of the company. If an employee comes to work early to read the employee notices, tell that person you appreciate the fact they come in early. When they head out the door for the day, take the time to say, "Thank you." When you praise for even the little things, people continue to give you their best.

Rewards are a core concept of energizing any individual. Create business-size cards that say, "I saw what you did, and I know who you are." Hand them out when you catch someone deserving of praise. At the end of each month they can redeem the cards toward merchandise they choose. Tailor your incentives to the individual. Find out where they like to eat, where they like to shop, etc. Reward each individual accordingly.

To shake things up and keep them lively, open up one night a year for employees and families and have management serve them. You might learn a thing or two yourself!

Today, you have it within your power to create a culture of invigoration in your business. By investing the time and money necessary to energize your team, your productivity and profits will soar, you will inspire loyalty, and you'll experience a lower turnover rate. More important, you will build your brand from within.

Gloria Plaisted is managing director of BrandChise LLC, a full-service franchise and branding solution source for new and existing franchise companies (

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