What Motivates Servers: Purpose

(Note: This is the final part of a six part series dealing with what does and does not motivate servers.  It is based upon research presented in the first part.  If you have not read the initial post entitled “The Epiphany”, I highly recommend you do so to fully understand the series.  Later parts dealt with how money fails and succeeds to motivate servers.  The most recent posts dealt with autonomy and mastery as motivators.  This post is best put into perspective after reading those posts.)

“The sense of paralysis proceeds not so much out of the mammoth size of the problem but out of the puniness of the purpose.”

-Norman Cousins

I have been writing this series for six days straight now.  With each part I write I become more convinced of the validity of the original research the series was built upon.  Every day I see specific examples of how autonomy or mastery inspires people.  Each one of those days I have also had misgivings about writing this post.  The concept of purpose is so immense and so powerful that summing it up in a thousand words of less seems a bit overwhelming.  I have outlined and re-outlined this post numerous times.  To conclude this series I will show how managers can create a sense of purpose for their staffs.  Tomorrow, I will use this information to share my personal purpose as a server and in the future.

Creating a sense of purpose amongst your staff can unleash the tremendous power of synergy.  The power of individuals working together towards a common goal is exponentially more powerful than the sum of the individuals working for their own goal.  Purpose does not contradict autonomy, but rather uses the individual strengths of each person to further the goals of the group.  Purpose creates positive peer pressure.  Purpose is what motivates you on the days you don’t feel motivated. Purpose is the roadmap that guides you to your destination even when you feel lost.

Creating that purpose is the role of a leader.  Purpose can be positive or negative.  I have seen servers emerge as leaders to advocate purposes that destroyed restaurants.  If you choose not to lead your servers towards a positive purpose, someone else will step up to lead.  Take advantage of your role to lead your staff to a higher purpose and you will see results and find much greater satisfaction in your work.

Here are the three basic steps in the process.

Define Your Purpose: In order for a purpose to be effective it must be concrete.  It must be set in stone and defined.  You should be able to recite your purpose verbatim using the exact same words at any time.  Making your purpose concrete does not mean you can’t adjust the method you use to achieve it.  A purpose is a destination.  You can adjust your route, but you never adjust where you are going. It should be something that you think about as you lie in bed at night.  A purpose must be large, measurable, have milestones along the way, and be greater than just you. In fact, your purpose should have nothing to do with you.  You cannot inspire others to fight for your sake, but you can inspire them to fight with you for the common good.  Your purpose must inspire others.  If it does not, you need to redefine your purpose.

Sell Your Purpose: Once you have set the destination, you must convince your staff to take the trip with you.  The management team must be convinced first and sign on unwaveringly to the common purpose.  Then you must inspire your staff to get on board.  Sell your staff on the purpose by acknowledging that together you are missing the mark.  Embrace the shortcomings and take responsibility for all of them.  Accepting the blame for problems you did not cause sets the tone.  When you make no excuses and assign no blame it removes the opportunity for anyone else to do so.  Once you have done this you can begin to build around a common purpose.  State your purpose boldly.  Make it clear that it will become the guiding principle of all of the decisions you make.  Then ask for their help.  Make it clear that you cannot achieve this goal without them.  Follow up by making it clear that they have as much to gain from this effort as you do.  Paint the picture of what achieving this purpose would mean for them and the benefits they will see along the way.

Lead By Your Purpose: Once you have embraced the purpose, you must lead according to it.  This requires a new paradigm.  For the sake of this post, a paradigm is a set of guidelines by which you accept or reject ideas.  Think of it like the child’s game where different shaped pegs are pushed through holes of the same shape.  Your paradigm is a round hole that no square pegs can fit through.  Each decision must be measured by whether it reinforces or detracts from the purpose.  On a daily basis let your actions be seen as working towards this purpose.  Accept feedback from your staff and be willing to adjust your route accordingly.  Any idea is measured against whether it moves you closer to the goal rather than who it came from.  Keep track of the milestones along the way.  Celebrate the victories, praise the people who embrace it, and motivate those who come up short.  As soon as you are seen not acting according to the purpose, you will lose those fighting with you.  Once your purpose is sold to your staff, you no longer have to worry about micromanaging behaviors.  Instead a certain level of self-policing and positive peer pressure will take hold.  Once it does, the power of synergy and common purpose will unleash tremendous results.

This whole series was built around motivation. Purpose is the part of this equation that is toughest to instill.  It is also the part that yields the greatest result.  No force has ever been created that wields greater power than shared purpose.  All of the great achievements of mankind started with a purpose and the enlistment of others to join the cause.  Whether it is revolution or putting a man on the moon, it started with a dream.  When others were recruited it became a purpose.  From there it became reality.  No one ever said it better than Margaret Mead, so I will give her the last words.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

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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"

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