When The Inmates Are Running The Asylum

inmates running the asylum. hospitalityhelpline.png

QUESTION From: Joel in Atlanta

”So I have quite a pickle here. My front house has 6 waiters and 2 shift leads. Both of whom I am considering for promotion to bartenders (long story but we are restaffing after a mass firing).

All the waiters, the kitchen Manager, kitchen staff and 1 shift lead have signed a letter to my partner and I insisting we fire the other shift lead. They say he is not a team player, is rude to staff and customers and a bunch of stuff that culminates in them not liking him much. The fact is that none of the staff like him much - a fact that helped him survive that mass firing (no one invited him to the after hours parties / theft) meaning that he is one of our most experienced staff (4 months on the job). The truth is that a sympathize with the staff and know he creates problems with customers sometimes because of his ego. But he's a fantastic worker, and very responsible + he is capable and smart enough to be responsible as a manager. Clearly though he is not a leader.

So that's the background - here's the question: how do you deal with a staff mini-revolt like this? If I fire him I'm worried about the precedent it sets (even if it is the right thing to do - which I am unsure of). There are too many signatures to ignore the letter and I'm concerned too much unity in the team to just give the staffer a "get better faster" kind of talk. Does anyone have experience in something like this? I'd love some advice. Thanks!”


You say: “He creates problems with customers sometimes because of his ego. But he’s a fantastic worker, and very responsible + he is capable and smart enough...”

This is like one of those word problems where the reader busies themselves with the math but the answer is right there in the question.

Make no mistake...The guest is the purpose of our work, not an intrusion on it.

We exist to serve guests - not the other way around... so if you have someone guest-facing on your payroll who is continually causing problems with your guests, then the person who is keeping them there is the only one revolting - you.

Bad employees are never as big a problem as the leadership that permits them to keep their position.
— Josh Sapienza | Hospitality Helpline

If you own a baseball team and have a player who’s an incredible athlete but can’t throw worth a shit, you don’t put him on the mound.

You have someone who is a hard worker, responsible and knows the business but can’t lead or interact with guests so why put him in a role that requires strengths he doesn’t have? Put him in the back office or set him free.

Sometimes people aren’t cut out for certain positions - as long as you’ve provided them with the appropriate collateral and properly coached them to develop their strength(s) - it may not be a failure on your part. But make no mistake… keeping that person on-board, once it’s clear they’re not a good fit, definitely is.

Bad employees are never as big a problem as the leadership that permits them to keep their position

While your staff is acting in the interest of preserving the culture of your business, they are doing it by proxy which…while enlightening is not preferable. You don’t want the inmates running the asylum.

The question you should be asking yourself isn’t whether or not you should concede to their demands but rather why are they trying to manage the situation themselves? As it is likely due to some perceived lack of management (e.g., systems in place or accountability) on your part.

Sometimes the herd thins itself. But this isn’t a herd. These are people and this is your business...and probably your livelihood.

From attendance to behavior - managing requires your clearly communicating expectations to EVERY member of staff and acting CONSISTENTLY with regard to enforcing the adherence to the policies & procedures you put in place.

Have you been 100% clear in articulating, recording and discussing the “problems” this employee is causing…directly with the employee?

Have you witnessed these issues first hand or are you relying on second and third party accounts?

Have your spoken with your staff and assured the entire team that ANYONE causing problems or violating your handbook’s code of ethics or simply struggling with their performance - will all equally receive coaching based on the same clearly communicated goals / expectations?

EVERY employee’s progress should be measured against S.M.A.R.T. goals and provided the same access to ongoing training, development and regular feedback re their specific performance so that the “herd doesn’t thin itself”. Instead, the manager needs to manage, motivate and coach everyone by providing them both opportunities and resources for improvement.

Now...if you’re doing all that and a member of your staff is still unable to improve with your assistance (and insistence)- then they have effectively told you that they are incapable of doing their job... in which case, they have no business being there unless it’s as a guest.

As usual, I would confer with trusted legal counsel to confirm my understanding that many states offer some recourse for an employee who complains that they have been "forced to quit” by management/ownership who makes working in a particular place or role unreasonably and unequally intolerable. Again, I’m not a lawyer and can only speak to the opportunity that exists to be a better manager; but the situation you’re describing sounds like it could escalate to a “Constructive Discharge” - which is when a person leaves a job but not of their own free will / choice to leave...but rather “are forced to quit” because the employer deliberately made working conditions so intolerable that any reasonable person would have felt like they were being forced to leave by passive aggressive management (my least favorite style of management).

Whatever you decide to do- ask yourself 2 things:

  1. “What’s the most equitable and fair way to handle this?”

  2. “What if these employees were not employees at all but were my children instead?” -I’m not saying you should overlook problems and love every staff member like family but I AM saying that sometimes you have to be the provider of tough love while being fair...and most of all - as unappealing as it may sound - YOU have to be the parent. Not them.

Best of Luck! Let me know how it goes...or if you need any additional help offline,

Josh Sapienza