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How to stave off 7 killer workplace viruses

It’s time to nip bad behavior in the bud

We all know how devastating a computer virus can be, but not everyone is aware of the destructive viruses that can infect a business. Unlike computer viruses, these profit killers aren’t transmitted through space; they grow and fester within the infected business strictly from internal causes.

Here are seven of the most common business ailments along with the antidotes you need to keep your restaurant from being infected:

1. Poor telephone manners

Your telephone can be a powerful business builder or a destructive business killer. Every time a customer or potential customer dials your number, it’s a request for a reservation, information, or help — the kind of information or help that may turn a prospect into a new customer. Any failure to deliver skillfully on these needs indicates telephone sickness virus.

Inoculate your restaurant against it by training every employee who answers the phone to understand the importance of one of your most powerful business tools and the urgent need to treat every caller with courtesy and respect.

Make sure that your telephone is always answered promptly. Never allow it to ring more than three or four times, and make sure that everyone identifies himself or herself by name in a cheery voice.

2. Under-the-radar low performers

Even one slacker in your restaurant creates an internal virus that will eat away at productivity, profits and customer confidence.

Dealing with an underperforming employee is a challenging task for most restaurant owners, but failing to face up to the problem will make a bad situation even worse. It can result in added stress on other employees who may have to take up the slack -- and resentment among those who can’t understand why the offender is allowed to continue.

The cure? Show your top-performing employees how much you value their work and that you won’t tolerate a slacker.

3. Tardy invoices

Do you do any of your own billing for parties or catering jobs? Of course, it’s best to adhere strictly to a pay-as-you-go philosophy, with no exceptions. But if you do billing for anyone, never forget that neglecting money owed to you can be devastating to your cash flow. It's essential not to allow your receivables to go untended. You've earned that money; you have a right to it; you need it.

You can correct the problem by setting up a foolproof system for promptly sending out an invoice or reminder to every customer who owes you money, and by following through relentlessly on every late payment. This is as important to your financial success as the quality of the food and services that you offer. If your customers learn that you are cavalier about money owed to you, you can be certain they will stretch your patience (and your cash flow) to the limit.

4. The faultless boss

This manager would have you believe that it’s always someone else’s fault when things go wrong. This is a common problem among business owners and managers and it erodes business success in several different ways.

Former President Harry S. Truman eliminated faultless boss virus from his presidency when he coined the phrase, “The buck stops here.” By acknowledging his willingness to shoulder the blame when things go wrong, Truman put his subordinates and constituents on notice that he wasn’t a finger pointer.

If your employees think that you’re never willing to shoulder even part of the blame for business miscues, they’ll withdraw from the kinds of decision-making and innovative thinking that could make your life easier and your business more successful.

Consider the possibility that your instructions weren’t clear, or that the involved employee made what reasonably appeared to be a good decision at the time. Once in a while, accept the blame even when you know you weren’t at fault. That’s a sure way to ban this destructive behavior.

5. Invisible employees     

With your busy schedule, it's all too easy to fall into a pattern of superficial contacts with employees. Consider this actual exchange overheard between a business owner and an employee passing in a hallway:

Employee: "Good morning, Mr. Smith, looks like we're going to have a nice day."

Boss: "Fine, thank you. And how are you?"

That sort of disconnect between an employee and a busy boss is all too common today, and a sure sign of the presence of invisible employee virus. It preys on the susceptibility of workers at all levels of our workplace hierarchy who are starving for individual recognition and the essential dignity that goes along with it. Failing to supply it provides a perfect setting for the loss of initiative, lowered work ethic and destructive depression on the part of the offended employees.

Fortunately, correcting this behavior is easy even for the busiest restaurant owners and managers. One of the simplest and most effective ways to develop and demonstrate sincere interest in your employees is to take the time to find out something about each one, including such simple things as the names of spouse and children, or employee hobbies or special interests, and then following through from time to time with questions that show you are genuinely interested.

6. Foggy instructions

Are the directions and instructions you give to employees always crystal clear? If you think so, there’s a good chance that you’re wrong. The ability to communicate with precision doesn’t come naturally to most of us regardless of the extent of our education and business experience.

Industrial psychologists studying the effectiveness of communications among humans uncovered an important weakness in this vital area of our lives. Much of the problem, they say, is the result of a limited vocabulary and the way many of us choose our words.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the failure of an employee to follow your instructions or carry out a project the way you intended, it’s quite possible that the fault was your own, that you failed to make your instructions unmistakably clear. Too often, we assume that everyone will, or should, understand everything we say or write. This situation provides a happy breeding ground for the Foggy Instruction Virus.

Trying to pinpoint the blame for specific incidents of miscommunication probably isn’t worth the effort. Still, there’s little room for doubt that the heaviest share of responsibility for effective and profitable business communication rests with the person assigning the task; not the person on the receiving end.

Some years ago, a detailed study on business owners and managers revealed that a broad vocabulary was the most common characteristic in successful executives.

That’s not surprising when you consider that words are the only tools we have for communicating our thoughts to others. Because a manager must get things done largely through the efforts of others, the ability to express thoughts with clarity and precision is an obvious necessity.

Educator Henry Thomas wrote, “Words are the materials out of which we build our thoughts.”

This sentiment, echoed by countless experts, leads to an inescapable conclusion: Since words are necessary in the formation of our thoughts, an expanded vocabulary will improve the quality of our thinking.

However, they say, you should not take the job of building a powerful vocabulary to mean the relentless addition of exotic words just for the sake of sheer numbers -- quite to the contrary. The most appropriate word will seldom be the longest or most obscure one. The possessor of an unnecessarily large vocabulary of big words runs the constant risk of being misunderstood.

The trick is to master enough words to allow clear expression of your thoughts without resorting to the use of words that are beyond the understanding of all but college professors.

To be sure, effective communication can be an elusive target. But owners and managers who make a sincere effort to improve their skill in expressing themselves and their ability to understand others will gain an important advantage on the road to business.

7. Failing to guard your most precious business asset

Your employees form the bedrock of your business. While adequate wages are a fundamental requirement for employee satisfaction, money isn’t the only motivation for most workers. Recognition for a job well done and respect for individual effort are important contributors to low employee turnover and high productivity.

Nonfinancial rewards such as tickets for a local event, suggestion boxes with rewards for usable suggestions and other incentives are valuable at any time. But they take on special importance when circumstances limit your ability to increase wages.

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