March 1, 2015 |

Building a Leadership Team

By Pizza Today

kitchen crew preparing a dishIt all starts with you


Managing chaos is my favorite phrase I like to use to describe operating a pizzeria — chaos that can challenge the sanity of even the best of us. Our pizzerias take raw materials such as salt, flour, yeast, tomatoes and cheese and create a finished product that we sell directly to the end user. We manage hundreds of business aspects such as ordering, skills training, human resources, safety, customer service, technology, and marketing. From start to finish, we manage it all. Very few other businesses find themselves with so many challenges and duties.

So how do you keep it all together? How do you keep it running smoothly and seamlessly? It is much like watching a duck swim across the pond. On the surface it is smoothly and effortlessly making its way across the water, but below the surface you will see legs and feet going crazy working to propel the duck forward. It’s not much different behind the scenes of a pizzeria. The key to maintaining the appearance of a smooth-running operation is to build out a robust, diverse and capable management team.

Start with yourself — you need to present yourself as a capable, knowledgeable and strong leader. You need to take ownership of the pizzeria, so to speak, and let the buck stop with you. Your staff wants someone they can respect, emulate and look up to. Be an example of what you wish them to be.

The number and types of managers you will need is all dependent on your concept, sales volume and how much you want to work on the business and not in the business. My baseline management structure recommendation is a general manager, assistant manager, and a shift manager/key employee. Three managers can keep a pizzeria running smoothly seven days a week, but less than that will burn someone out. Busier pizzerias may need to add in additional assistant managers, shift managers, kitchen managers and head servers/drivers in order to keep things running well. Don’t put too many responsibilities on one person. The more responsibilities, the more lackluster the results will be.

When building my management teams I like to keep in mind six principals –– fun, redundancy, duties, ability, communication and accountability.

Fun: First off who wants to come to work and manage all of these headaches if you can’t have fun? Making pizza is hot, sweaty and dirty. We have to make it fun. Allow for a little bit of crazy and as much fun as you can while still serving the customers well. Fun and crazy has the ability to filter through to the rest of the staff.

Redundancy: A backup of a backup of a backup. Every single manager you have should be able to cover for the other manager. What happens when the general manager gets sick, the assistant manger has a family emergency and you are at Pizza Expo in Las Vegas? Can your pizzeria stay open? Far too often pizzerias rely on a single general manager to work 60 to 70 hours a week. Not only does that burn them out, it is just plain wrong to expect anyone to work that many hours.

Duties: Every manager should have their duties detailed out on paper. Have job descriptions and procedures for each position and take the time to explain them. Don’t overload a manager with too many duties and don’t segregate duties too much. Managers should be cross-trained with other manager’s duties to keep up your redundancy.

Ability: While you do not want your managers spending most of their time being an overpaid pizza maker, it is important that they know these skills. If you are a manager then you better know how to make a great pizza, wash dishes, wait on a table, run a delivery and clean toilets, too. It is easy to be a boss, but harder to be a leader. Lead by example and criticize from a position of knowledge. Your staff will take instruction and criticism much better when you know what you are talking about.

Communication: The chain of command is a great model to follow so that you are fostering an environment of respect and order. It is also good, however, for managers to have the ability to speak freely, criticize and air grievances without fear of retaliation. Weekly leadership meetings with all of your leaders are critical to keeping everyone on the same page, releasing frustration and getting clarification. All leaders should be expected to give a report of the week, have suggestions, ideas, and questions at every meeting.

Accountability: All leaders need to be held accountable for what happens on their shift, in their area and the actions of those under them. No passing the buck. When things go wrong it is important to discuss the issue. Not to just chastise or discipline, but to explain and analyze what went wrong, why it went wrong, how it should have been handled and how to deal with similar issues in the future. Consider leadership mistakes on-the-job training. Usually your management will only make the mistake once, learn from it and move forward as even better leaders.

At the end of the day if you want to see your business flourish, keep your sanity intact and have a pizzeria full of happy employees (or as happy as they can be), then you have to learn to let go a little. Let you managers do their jobs, let them make mistakes, back them up, let them be creative, and let them be a little crazy.

Michael Shepherd owns 600 Downtown in Bellafontaine, Ohio and is a speaker at International Pizza Expo 2015 in Las Vegas.