“Sweat the details. Pay attention to them. If you don’t, your competitors will.”  – Chef

Last week I attended the spring graduation ceremony at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California. One of the Chef Professors, Chef Thomas Wong, doled out advice to the class to help them succeed in the competitive restaurant and hospitality industry.

He reminded the graduating class that talent doesn’t guarantee success, and that great preparation trumps raw talent any day of the week. In his words, “Success is in the details. Sweat the details. Pay attention to them, because if you don’t…your competitor will.” So true.

The need to focus on the details is not limited to food preparation, and it’s something FEC operators often share that they struggle with. That said, it is possible to train for attention to detail. Read on for six tips to help you teach this often-overlooked skill to your team.

No. 1: Don’t make assumptions about knowledge.

One of the most important tips to remember is that you can’t make assumptions about what people do and don’t know. You might think that the steps to cleaning the bathroom or straightening merchandise shelves are obvious, but you’re setting yourself and your team up for failure by making that assumption. It’s always best to be clear about your expectations and share what a job well-done will look like.

No. 2: Provide clear direction.

When you have a new task a team member must perform, make sure that they have the necessary tools to complete it successfully. Like you would with any recipe, compile instructions and pictures to accompany any routine task. Paul Akers’ 2-Second Lean outlines the process and benefits of doing this, and it’s valuable for anything from cleaning the bathrooms to setting up for an event, or even to restocking the redemption counter.

No 3: Help eliminate fear.

Besides being ill-prepared, a lot of mistakes happen when we’re busy, outside our comfort zone, or flustered. Operators often tell me that it’s difficult to get some team members to make party prep calls to party parents in advance of the weekend’s birthday parties.

Inexperienced team members might feel afraid or intimidated making party prep calls because they don’t know what to say or how they will be treated by the recipient. But this is trainable.

Scripts and checklists are obvious tools to help manage the details of an interaction, but they’re only effective – when you’ve taken the time to internalize them. Case in point: every telemarketer has a script, but most of them aren’t comfortable enough with it to actually have a conversation. Have team members work with trainers and each other to practice scripts and scenarios until they are comfortable conducting the conversations.

Ask reluctant team members what exactly they are struggling with and give targeted feedback to help them feel confident they’ll be able to handle the next call or task.

 No. 4: Build analytical problem-solving capabilities.

One of the biggest challenges we face in training is related to the way that today’s consumers gain information. If we have a question, we can conduct an internet search and get exactly what we’re looking for. But what we may not get is the answer to what we’re supposed to do before or after, context, and other nuances that are needed in our jobs.

Last summer, my neighbor’s teenage son, Christian, wanted to do some yard work at my house for extra money. One afternoon, he came to the door and asked to borrow my chainsaw. For a moment, I wondered if I had a chainsaw and where it would be before it occurred to me that I was considering giving a 17-year-old a chainsaw. But he had deduced that he needed one to complete the task and came to me asking for it.

The point of this story is that we as managers need to help staff hone their problem-solving skills to know how to work in situations successfully and (most importantly) safely. So when you’re delegating tasks, talk to team members about what they need to get started, how they might go about completing it effectively and safely, and what to do if they need help.

No. 5: Help them build context.

The lack of ability to deduce how to act in a particular setting is something I see in guest service encounters all the time. It’s not just what to do in a specific situation but also how to understand the situation as a whole and gather clues from the context. For example, one morning last week in Califorina, I approached the hotel’s front desk and asked where the fitness center was located.  I learned that it was on the second floor, so I took the stairs up to the second floor, crossing paths with a gentleman on his way down. When I got to the fitness center, I found the door locked, with a note saying reservations were required.

I returned moments later to the front desk to ask about a reservation only to learn that only one person was permitted entrance at a time, and the gentleman I’d passed in the hall had gotten the next timeslot. I didn’t get to work out and was disappointed because I’d just been there, asking where the fitness center was in my gym clothes. If I were conducting guest service training with their staff, I’d help them decipher the contexts of that situation, and it might sound something like this:

“A guest approaches and asks where the fitness center is. What should you do?” (tell her where it is)

“Sure, but what else might be important or helpful for them to know?” (e.g., that it requires a reservation, that you need a room key to enter, that there are plenty of towels for their use, that they can dial zero on the hotel phone at any point if they need help, and so on).

Every situation has guest service touchpoint opportunities that can make or break an interaction. But we have to help staff paint the picture in their minds of cues to look for. Help them discover the context clues. Pictures help them learn to “spot the mistakes,” like the mop bucket in a guest’s line of sight or the misshapen rug that can lead to a fall. Pictures and charades help teach how to read body language and emotions. Scenarios and skits help them take everything in and build the necessary knowledge to thrive in any situation.

No. 6: Be approachable when they ask questions.

It might be the tenth time you’ve answered a question, and you might be annoyed, but it’s almost always best to be as approachable as possible so staff feel comfortable coming to you with questions.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should just give them the answer every time, causing them to become dependent on you for everything. Sniping, sarcasm, or rebuffing a team member (or teammate) almost never helps and it can destroy morale faster than you can say “we’re hiring again.”

If you want to encourage a team member to come to a conclusion themselves, consider asking questions like,

“What have you tried?”

“What are you thinking about trying?”

“What do you think would happen if you did it your way and it turned out it was wrong?”

“This sounds a little like when you worked with that school group that showed up unannounced. Do you remember how you handled it then?”

When you ask questions like this, you’re keeping them engaged in the outcome. And when it turns out their ideas are great, they’re excited and less-likely to come to you with similar questions in the future. If it turns out they were wrong, you’re able to redirect and offer them guidance for next time as well, all while continuing to build rapport and confidence.

Clarity, practice, and feedback are three critical components of developing the ability to take the right step in almost any situation. Together, along with your continued focus on helping your team grow, you’ll have all the ingredients for a high-performing team.

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