I’ve written many times about my vast experience in the fast food industry, not as a worker, but as an often mistreated customer.
Each story typically involved bad food, apathetic employees, horrible customer service, and a vow never to return.
That vow usually ended up in the dumpster when my craving for a chicken burrito got the better of my logic and principles.
This time I’m talking about fast food for a different reason.
There are lessons to be learned from those who toil behind the counters of America’s fast food joints.
Working in the fast food industry is not easy, it doesn’t pay very well, and it’s often a thankless job with long hours and little rewards.
I’m not espousing the plight of the fry guy here.
I’m talking about those who manage the restaurants that so many of us rely on for our daily bread.
One of the best management books I’ve read recently is called “My Secret Life on the McJob” by Jerry Newman.
Newman, a management professor at the University of New York at Buffalo took a break from teaching MBA students and spent 14 months working low level jobs at seven fast food restaurants, among them Arby’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Krystal.
The book jacket makes the point that every entrepreneur, executive, or manager should heed:
“Of the seven restaurants where Newman worked, some were high-morale, high-productivity machines. Others were miserable, misplaced circles of hell. Yet one common trait stuck out from them all: Each restaurant’s respective manager determined the climate of the work environment.”
In other words, the person in charge sets the mood and establishes the culture in which the employees, and ultimately the business, succeeds or fails.
As I read the book I thought about managers that I had when I was still in the ranks of the employed.
I never worked fast food, my resume lies primarily in broadcasting and technology, but I found that the industry didn’t matter.
There are good bosses and bad bosses in every industry; and their mood and management style always determined the workplace culture over which they ruled.
I’ve had great bosses and I’ve had lousy bosses. And you all know who you are.
Newman identified four main management types that permeated the fast food restaurants in which he worked.
Again, I believe the industry is moot. You’ll find these same management styles in every industry.
You may not be a fast food manager, but if you’re an entrepreneur, manager or executive, one of the following probably describes your dominant management style.
The Toxic Manager
Toxic Managers are disrespectful of their employees and spend more time degrading than motivating. They use sarcasm as a management tool and don’t mind letting everyone know that they are unhappy and why. They are miserable managers who believe that misery loves company because they do all they can to make everyone around them as miserable as they are. They manage by terror, intimidation, and threats. If this is you, seek help immediately before your employees stuff you in the grease trap.
The Mechanical Manager
Mechanical Managers are so called because their actions are mechanical, like sad little robots doing jobs they hate. They show up every day and perform their jobs with about as much enthusiasm as a sloth. They hate their job, they hate everyone around them, and they make it painfully obvious that they would rather be anywhere else than at work. They go through the motions and go home. And their actions are contagious. A mechanical manager breeds a culture of apathy and angst. If this is you, either find a way to enjoy the job or go work somewhere else. You’re bumming everybody out, dude.
The Relationship Manager
According to Newman, the Relationship Manager was a rarity in the fast food restaurants in which he worked. As the name implies, Relationship Managers worked on building relationships with their workers. Even though the turnover rate in fast food averages 500 percent, relationship managers held that number closer to 100 by showing that they actually cared about their employees and saw them as more than temporary hands flipping burgers. Relationship Managers build cultures that are friendly and supportive. If this is you, bravo! Here’s your free apple pie!
The Performance Manager
The Performance Manager also uses relationship techniques, but does so to ensure the performance of the team. The Performance Manager sets expectations and motivates his team to achieve them. If this is you, again grab that free pie and give yourself a hand.
Let’s forget fast food now and just look at the management styles Newman identified. Which management style best describes you? Perhaps the more important question is which describes the culture you’ve created in your business?
If your crew is happy and performing well, chances are it’s because of the example you set and the mood you create. If your crew is bickering and nothing is getting done, it’s probably because your toxic management style is creating the culture for it.
Remember this: Toxic managers usually have six words on their tombstones: Do you want fries with that?