Preshift meetings jumpstart staff performance

Preshift meetings jumpstart staff performance

Jim Sullivan

Can you imagine a sports team at any level pro, college, high school, middle school or Little League–getting ready for a game without any communication from the coach relative to the game plan?

Can you picture the looks on the team members’ faces if the coach shows up just before the game, strides onto the field or court and says nothing, praises no one and begins chatting with the fans without any direction for the players?

Can you have a winning season with a coach like that? Can you keep and recruit top players with that kind of leadership?

Many restaurant owners and operators must think so because they demonstrate a similar absence of leadership when they fail to prepare and execute preshift meetings for their staff on a daily basis.

Research reveals a key learning. Our company recently completed a yearlong research project that studied the best practices of 278 high-performing foodservice managers in the quick-service, casual-dining, family, fine-dining and on-site segments. Each of the general managers we interviewed led units that were among the top 10 highest-grossing restaurants in their companies. In other words, these are dream-team GMs. We identified 21 specific core competencies that they all exhibited, but one behavior they all shared–bar none–is this: They make daily preshift meetings mandatory for their managers and staff. We asked those top GMs to identify the elements of effective preshift meetings, and here’s what they told us:

Relate every preshift meeting to a bigger goal and strategy. When managers meet each week, they should plan their preshift meeting topics for the next seven days by first reviewing period goals and then aligning the meeting topics to support and execute those big-picture objectives. If your focus for the period is building same-store sales, for instance, then each shift should focus on menu merchandising.

preshifts are for everyone. Everyone affects the customer’s experience, so everyone benefits from effective preshift meetings. Wes Lazar, a general manager for the Texas Roadhouse in Appleton, Wis., agreed.

“Most companies focus on doing preshift meetings for servers, but it’s just as important to have preshift meetings for kitchen crew, bussers, greeters and bar staff, too,” Lazar said. “They all impact the guest, so why shouldn’t they all be informed and energized before each shift?”

One meeting, one topic. Focus is key. Pick one area to spotlight during each shift: service, selling, cost control, promotions, safety, recipes, marketing, teamwork, portion control, whatever. Don’t try to focus on everything because you end up focused on nothing. Be 1 percent better every day, and then look at where you are 100 days from now.

Be prepared and eliminate distractions. Turn off pagers and cell phones, hold the calls and make sure you have the team’s attention.

“Premeal meetings should be upbeat and full of energy, but there also has to be discipline and organization,” said Tim Weaver, an award-winning managing partner with O’Charley’s in Cookeville, Tenn. “Allowing coworkers to eat, drink, smoke or have sidebar conversations during premeals creates an atmosphere of apathy, which blocks both listening and learning. Managers must keep the team focused and paying attention.”

Bring energy; don’t take it away. An effective preshift is part pep rally, part information, part training, all energy. Don’t focus on the negatives. Charge them up; don’t bring them down.

Keep it interactive. Effective preshifts are not long-winded manager monologues or boring data dumps. The agenda for revenue-generating preshifts includes energy transfer, recognizing yesterday’s performers, an overview of anticipated volume, goal setting and how those goals are attained, and then asking the team to review what you just told them. “Karl, can you tell us our two goals for this shift?” After Karl reviews it for you, ask Rosa to do the same, then Michael. Now you ask Karl what he’s going to do to achieve those shift goals, then Rosa, then Michael.

You can offer small team or individual rewards if the goals are accomplished. The key here is perfect practice with spaced repetition.

Keep it short and sweet. You know how long the preshift meetings of our high-performing full-service GMs lasted? An average of three minutes. And at QSR operations, the top performers executed their preshift meetings in under two minutes. Get to the point and do it interactively.

Don’t neglect team members who come in later. Most operators don’t have their whole staff together before the shift at the same time. To minimize labor costs, we stagger their arrivals. So do these team members miss the preshift meeting? Absolutely not! The best managers do 30-second one-on-one meetings with every staggered-shift crew member as he or she arrives.

Write down your shift goals and post them in a common area–the same place every day. Have team members who come in at staggered times review the shift objectives and add their initials and personal goals to the sheet. Now have them find the manager who does a 30-second, one-on-one Shift Goal Review with the crewmember.

Coach during and follow up after each shift. Don’t set shift goals if you aren’t coaching performance during the shift to help the team achieve those goals. And after the shift, keep the energy high, thank each crewmember for his or her efforts and write down what you learned in your manager logbook.

“The transition period between shifts, where everyone’s energy and focus tends to wind down, creates another operational obstacle that must be dealt with by managers,” said O’Charley’s Weaver. “We all get tired, mentally and physically, and that’s when we make the most mistakes and overlook guests. In order to complete a successful shift, it has to finish with the same smoothness and upbeat energy as the beginning.”

The food may be different, the crew may be different, the decor may be different, the theme may be different, the execution may be different, even the customers may be different. But the one thing that all successful operators have in common is making preshift meetings mandatory every day with their entire team. If you think that training is expensive, try ignorance.

Jim Sullivan is the chief executive of, an Appleton, Wis.-based company that produces live seminars, books and multimedia products focused on service, selling, operations and leadership. You can reach him at or (920) 830-3915

COPYRIGHT 2005 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group