Five fatal mistakes new multi-unit leaders make
5 September, 2012
When you grow your business from one unit to something bigger, don't think that all you have to do is more of the same to be successful, says Jim Sullivan
Ever since my book Multi-unit Leadership was published in 2010, I have conducted more than 200 workshops on the topic for foodservice and retail brands across the globe. One question that routinely comes up is this: “What are the common mistakes operators make when they
grow from one to many units?” I thought that you, too, might benefit from the answer to that question.
Mistake 1: Assuming it's not rocket science
In theory, multi-unit leadership is simple: have the fundamentals in place, execute on the basics, hit the quarterly financial targets, have a strong bench backed with a talent pipeline, and make sure that every customer leaves happy. “That formula worked in the first unit, let’s just do it more in the other units.”
But “more” is complicated. The fact is that what made you successful at one level may not be enough to make you successful at the next. Ironically, the skills you acquire by successfully growing one unit can actually be detrimental when trying to operate a second, third, or fourth one. Convinced you can do it all, you insist on trying to do it all. But an effective multi-unit leader is not a “GM-on-steroids”. Scaling leadership is much more complicated than scaling menus and spreadsheets. Multi-unit leadership is a “thinking” job more than a “doing” job. Do not underestimate the challenge of learning to grow from a hands- on management mindset to the art of indirect influence.
Mistake 2: Acting like a lone ranger
If you own and operate a single restaurant, there is only one degree of separation between administration and operations: the owner will either hire the GM or be the GM. Either way, the span of control is minimal; one building, one market, one team, one concept, one kitchen, one menu, one set of books. But open multiple locations, and things get more complex and complicated, fast.
The reason is that the span of control between operator and operations does not increase incrementally, but exponentially. As sales, size, team, markets, and geography expand, communication and organisation weakens, creating a dire need for better and more efficient administration, bookkeeping, accountability, scalability, and effective sub- levels of management. If the novice multi-unit leader decides that the best way to responsibly manage the mounting operational gaps is by micromanaging, then the leadership gaps expand as well. Delegate or die. Only rookies value micromanaging over empowerment. “Freedom is actually a bigger game than power,” Harriet Rubin says in Fast Company. “Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.”
Mistake 3: Valuing efficiency over effectiveness
Unproductive behaviour is often the result of bad execution coupled with good intent. But doing something unimportant well does not make it important. Do not confuse being efficient with your time or activities as being effective in your role or responsibilities. If for instance you were able to visit four units in half a day you would call yourself efficient. But by spending so little time in each store can you say you were effective at the stuff that really matters?
The focus of all restaurant visits by the multi-unit leaders is to develop people, not “inspecting” units. Determine a specific focus area for each unit you visit: concentrate on measurably improving one thing, not trying to improve all things. Know what you are specifically trying to accomplish. Assess “performance is” versus “performance should be”, and always spread energy, don’t take it away.
Mistake 4: Being the know-it-all
Multi-unit leaders pride themselves in being problem solvers: unit managers bring them a challenge, they tell them how to fix it. But the best multi- unit leaders are also “problem- givers”. That is, they give the manager tools to figure out solutions without telling them what to do at each step. This enables self-discovery and trust while fostering collaboration.
Transferring knowledge within your company is vital to long-term strategic success, but teaching them how versus telling them how is vital. An organisation being dependent on one person for all the answers is short-sighted and dangerous. Better still, select talented people and let them do what you hired them for. Do what you are good at, and find other people to fill your competency gaps.
Mistake 5: Trying to change 'culture' instead of behaviour
To realise long-term goals, the best multi-unit leaders put their energy into managing and directing the short-term goals on a shift-by-shift basis. Always focus first on changing behaviour, not directly on changing culture. Ironically, that is how a brand’s culture grows stronger.
The behavioural shift from independence to interdependence is tricky for the single unit operator evolving into a multi-unit leader. It takes equal parts luck, pluck, nerve and knowledge. And you would do well to also heed the words of author Jim Kouzes: “Leadership is more an affair of the heart than of the head.”
Jim Sullivan’s book Multi-unit Leadership is used in over 175,000 businesses worldwide, and is available in the UK via Peach Factory. Call 01704 550383 to place an order You can follow Jim on Twitter @Sullivision and get his free leadership enewsletter at Sullivision.com.