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The Secret to Coaching Employees When the Clock Is Ticking

The Secret to Coaching Employees When the Clock Is Ticking

by Sean Kashanchi

Story Highlights

  • Employee development is challenging in fast-paced service industries
  • Strengths-based coaching is efficient for retail and restaurant managers
  • Using their CliftonStrengths helps employees offer an exceptional customer experience

Retailers and restaurants move fast. Long before open and well after close, the clock is always ticking and every second represents revenue lost or gained. How efficiently and quickly an operation can prepare itself to serve customers on an hour-by-hour basis defines its sales -- and, ultimately, its success.

In these service industry organizations, speed equals revenue. But it creates a costly management problem: There's little time to conduct the kind of coaching conversations that engage and develop team members. Employee engagement and development correlate with profitability, productivity and retention -- but they take time.

This time crunch focuses managers on the very immediate, and it's usually what a team member did wrong: how they screwed up an order, forgot to upsell the customer on the warranty, mishandled food or made an angry customer angrier. It's an understandable managerial reaction, but it's also punitive and negative. Eventually, that kind of management can lead to an unwelcoming customer experience -- and Gallup research shows that it can create a disengaging employee experience too.

Disengaged team members either stay and do a bad job, which increases costs and decreases customer engagement, or they quit and require replacing. So managers get stuck running an operation with either too many rookies or too many toxic employees, losing money in the process and with little time for the coaching that employees need to learn and grow -- and to produce the kind of customer experience that generates profit and earns loyalty.

It seems like an intractable problem in fast-paced industries. It is not. It's a profit-sucking cultural problem related to perspective, not pace.

And it can be fixed.

A Strengths-Based Management Approach for Service Industries

Gallup research has long found that trying to fix a weakness is a surefire way to create mediocrity -- and that, as noted, focusing on the negative to improve performance doesn't work well. Food service has an average annual turnover rate of 103% to 150% (and an average 3% to 5% profit margin). Customer-facing retail's turnover is over 60%, which suggests that it's time to abandon "weakness fixing" as a management strategy.

Let's replace it with one that works: developing individual employees based on their CliftonStrengths. Gallup research shows that organizations that invest in strengths-based development see 14% to 29% increased profit, 10% to 19% increased sales and 3% to 7% higher customer engagement. Focusing on employees' CliftonStrengths can also boost retention efforts -- and keeping an employee for even one more month saves the location money. Further, Gallup studies show that people who strongly agree that they get to "do what they do best every day" are more engaged and more productive, as well as happier and healthier in their everyday life.

Which is why a CliftonStrengths-based approach to development and management can be a significant differentiator for operations that include it in their employee value proposition -- and a big competitive advantage in service industries.



It can also create lifelong customers out of former employees. A strengths-based approach to coaching and managing shows genuine care, which can have a powerful emotional effect that lingers long past one's tenure as an employee. People remember the manager and the company that helped them find out who they are and that directed their career toward what they do best.

Now, exactly what a person does best can be surprisingly difficult to define, but those talents manifest in powerful ways. Some people do what they do best when they're thinking strategically. For others, it's fixing a problem. Some are at their best when carrying on a tradition. Identifying and measuring talent -- putting a name to what a person does best -- is what the CliftonStrengths assessment is for. Whatever it is, no one can do it better than a person with the talent for it.

Retailers and restaurants need that talent. Stores profit from talent too -- and profit a lot. Gallup's State of the American Workplace report shows that while only about 40% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day, a company that moves that ratio to eight in 10 employees could see an 8% increase in customer engagement scores, a 14% increase in profitability and a 46% reduction in safety incidents.

CliftonStrengths Conversations

For most industries, the aforementioned benefits are more than enough to justify incorporating a strengths-based approach. CliftonStrengths, being quick to implement and easy to operationalize, is particularly useful for retail and restaurant managers.

That's vital when there's little time for lengthy development and coaching conversations. Of course, managers can do a deep dive into theory and data, but it's not necessary for a working knowledge of how to lead, how to be heard, and how to best connect with their teams and guests.

That working knowledge gives managers and employees a common language for coaching on the fly.

For instance, a manager can tell a cook deep in the weeds to take a breath and apply her Competition talents -- they're all she needs to get through the orders piling in and to be better at her job today than she was yesterday.

A sales associate with strong Individualization talents ought to be encouraged to lean into them. That unique ability helps him resonate with customers and hear their unspoken needs -- and his manager should help him use that innate gift on behalf of his customers.


A server with Ideation talents has the rare capacity to co-create perfect meals with diners. A manager who gives that server the freedom to discover and offer exactly what guests crave -- though it may seem time-consuming and excessive -- is also giving the server the opportunity to give guests an unforgettable customer experience.

Retail or restaurant team members don't often hear, "You're special, and you should do more of that amazing thing you do." But managers who lead with that attitude can push their teams to perform better. Identifying and capitalizing on employees' strengths creates more cohesive units, aligned to what employees naturally do best, that consistently move teams toward an "ideal state" employee experience. The words take seconds to say, but the positive impact lasts.

And customers will notice. Team members who work with their CliftonStrengths can give guests distinctive and personalized service. That makes employees' interactions with customers singular to that person, that place, that day.

Using CliftonStrengths to Provide the Ultimate Customer Experience

That kind of unique-to-you service is how organizations can create the differentiated customer experience that customers want -- and are willing to pay more for.

According to Gallup research, fully engaged customers represent a 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth over the average customer. Fully engaged casual-dining customers make 56% more visits per month to their favored restaurant than actively disengaged customers do. Fully engaged fast-food customers make 28% more visits.

These higher engagement levels result from the emotional impact that employees invent fresh for every customer. That impact springs from engagement -- the disengaged won't bother -- and authentic talent. Talent can't be faked. Not well, and not for long.

That's why trying to reform rather than develop employees is such a losing strategy. It roboticizes workers, or disengages them, and undermines the human-to-human qualities needed for an engaging customer experience.

Developing employees' CliftonStrengths, on the other hand, improves the team's profits and earns their loyalty. Strengths-based development also improves the brand's employee value proposition. That's what attracts and retains team members who exceed expectations and provide consistently excellent performance.

And when the clock is ticking and every second represents revenue, those employees make all the difference. They decide what kind of experience their guests will have. Coaching team members to know and use their CliftonStrengths and to create an engaging customer experience is an extremely effective use of managers' time -- especially when they have no time to waste.

Learn how Gallup can help restaurants and retailers develop employees to deliver an exceptional customer experience:



Sean Kashanchi is a Senior Managing Consultant at Gallup within our Retail, Restaurant and Hospitality Practice.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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