It’s tough out there.
But there really is something you can do to make things better. It doesn’t cost a bundle, take years to implement or months of training.
Howard Olivier is the owner of Flying Pie Pizzaria, a local pizza joint of legendary proportions that’s been around for 25 years. In 2008, when many local restaurants were either posting 20-30 percent losses or closing doors, Flying Pie saw a five percent gain.
The secret, Olivier says, is simple. He and his staff created a positive culture. They wrote up the tenets of the credo, delivered it in orientation meetings and employee rallies.
“The reason we wanted to build a protective bubble was for us. We need a good place for US to visit — and it just happened to be good for business, too.”
Then, they took the message from the kitchen to the table, from the employee handbook to the Web. Now it is printed on the menu.
“We wanted to say ‘welcome to one part of your world that doesn’t suck,” Olivier says. They encourage participation. For instance, FP is giving $10 to folks who come up with “a phrase to make people feel good. We’ve awarded $500 since August,” Olivier says. And they discourage negativity. When they noticed folks at the Fairview location caught up in doom and gloom on cable news channels, Olivier and his staff fiddled with TV parental controls. Now — no more cable news shows. Not at Flying Pie.
“The outside world became darker,” longtime employee Amanda McIntire explains. “To balance it, we had to turn our knob up also.”
The positive culture is infectious. Cooks, cashiers, order-takers, customers — all are laughing and having fun. Look — is your pizza being danced to the table? People even fill out those oft-left-blank comment cards. Olivier has memorized his favorite one: “Oh, the day I was having before I got here….”
It’s amazing you can make that kind of change in someone’s day, he says, adding it’s just a reflection of how people feel after doing business at FP. “They want to come back again, come back soon and come back with friends.”
Gundars Kaupins, Boise State University Management Department Chair and professor for 23 years, specializes in human resource management. He says Olivier knows what he’s doing.
“Creating a positive culture is essential for survival whether you are in a job or laid off,” Kaupins says. “It reduces stress and improves health.”
The biggest tip for managers, Kaupins says, is to listen to employees. If you don’t, you can create a negative culture. “Also, show enthusiasm for what ever work is done. Also, think strategically and continue to pursue the organization mission.
To keep a strong work environment, psychological needs must be met. “If the needs are off, productivity slips,”Kaupins says. “One example is when a company puts $1 into an employee assistance program, they typically get $5 back in productivity.”
(Flying Pie took staff members in January to Costa Rica for an all-in tip-jar vacation. Imagine how much productivity they got back!)
To keep it positive, Kaupins says managers should be “mission-driven, open to listening (and therefore new ideas), and enthusiastic about what they do.”
Olivier has his own advice and says there are two critical necessities: “A positive culture and referral-based business (Flying Pie relies on word-of-mouth — no Yellow Pages ad here). If you live both of these things you will succeed this year.”
Keeping it positive
Here are some inexpensive ways to keep spirits, sales and business up.
- Don’t discount the power of inspirational quotes. Post them in the employee breakroom, on the company coffeepot — and change them often.
- This one’s good for employees and customers: institute casual Fridays or keep ‘em going. Get creative, do occasional theme Fridays (you can retain professionalism without losing the fun factor). How about a “Mad Men” Friday? Everyone could dress in their mod 60s best.
- Have regular brown-bag lunches. Put out calls for local speakers at the Small Business Administration, area colleges, universities or senior citizen community centers.
- Smile (mean it!) and say thank you.
Editor’s note: This was also published in my column, First the good news, published every other week in the Idaho Business Review.