What Motivates Servers: Autonomy

(Note: This is part four of a series based on research presented in part one.  Part one serves as the basis for the whole series and gives a great deal of background for this post.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend doing so to get the most out of this post and series.  In part two I addressed how financial incentives do not motivate servers.  In part three I looked at how lack of income can destroy your staff’s motivation.  The next few posts will look at what does motivate servers.)

I am sitting at my computer writing this on July 4th, 2010.  It is Independence Day.  Outside my window I have been hearing fireworks for hours.  They are completely illegal, but what better way of demonstrating independence than by flagrantly and loudly breaking the law.  The news tells us it is dangerous.  The police write tickets.  Cities and tourist attractions sponsor larger and safer displays.  They still go off outside my window.  Even when the law is in our best interest, we love to violate it.  We love exercising our independence despite the consequences.

Yet when people become managers and owners they seem to forget this.  Independence or autonomy is a core principle we are raised on and strive for.  When people try to take away our independence, we fight.  It is no mystery that people will rebel against rules in the workplace.  What is seldom considered is the power of autonomy to motivate.

Autonomy is the feeling that your work is truly your own.  You are not going through the motions for someone else, but rather control the manner in which you do your job.  In restaurants you cannot grant servers total autonomy to show up when they want or serve only the tables they want to.  You can however provide them flexibility within guidelines.  Measuring outcomes rather than mandating methods will allow your servers to take greater ownership over their shifts.  This motivates them to perform at a higher level and take more personal responsibility over their work.

Here are some paradigm shifts that encourage autonomy

Guidelines Not Rules: Instead of dictating specific concrete rules, set guidelines for your staff.  The obvious example is “the flair scene” from the movie Office Space.  Most managers would refuse to believe they are that ridiculous, but I have seen many hold a coin up to a servers ear to measure an earring.  Instead of mandating specific rules on everything, allow for some flexibility.  The motivation benefits derived from not requiring a certain neckline on an undershirt or direction of the stripes on a tie far outweigh any perceived lowering of standards.

Talking Points Not Scripts: Do not turn your tables into robots to spit out a prewritten corporate pitch.  They will often do so with the liveliness of a robot.  Instead simply provide a list of points they have to hit and let them script it.  It will sound far more natural and produce better results.  I have all the confidence in the world in my pitch and will put it up against anyone’s.  When I train new servers, they will often try to copy my pitch.  It never sounds natural in their voice.  My Patrick Bateman-esque delivery style makes my pitch my own.  No matter how great the script is, there is no substitute for the interjection of the server’s personality and the ownership of the words it produces.

Results Not Methods: With great freedom comes great responsibility.  Allowing your servers the flexibility to work within guidelines rather than rules does not mean lowering your expectations.  It should actually make them higher.  When you stop focusing on methods, you can put more emphasis on the results.  Autonomy requires accountability.  Your servers should still be held responsible for the outcome of their methods.  If their ways fails, then it is time for coaching and improvement.  Focusing on the outcomes rather than the methods gives them every opportunity to succeed and allows them to take responsibility for any failures.  It is not so much that the ends justify the means.  Rather if they are responsible for the means they are responsible for the ends as well.

These can all be wrapped up into one principle.  Severs react better when they are lead than when they are managed.  This is my first rule of restaurant management.  It is also at it’s core the difference between Sergeants and Generals.  Leading rather than managing produces results by allowing for autonomy.  Many managers are afraid of giving up their authority by promoting autonomy. In actuality, autonomy allows managers to shift the responsibility back to the servers and lets them focus on more important issues.  Independence and autonomy are things all employees crave.  Feeding this craving will yield tremendous benefits to morale and productivity.

Tips²: Tips For Improving Your Tips, the new book from the author of The Manager’s Office, teaches the skills of exceptional servers that will increase customer satisfaction and dramatically improve restaurant sales.  This book is more than a server training manual.  It is the secret to teaching your staff to enjoy selling and give your guests the experience that will create raving fans.  To learn more about the book, visit www.tips2book.com.  Use the coupon code “MANAGER” to save 20% at the checkout.


Submit to Best Restaurant Blogs

About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,