September 1, 2014 |

Hidden Gems

By DeAnn Owens

pizza tossing EVO CharlestonIdentify your staff’s talents to strengthen business, employee relations


Operators have an eye for seeing the potential in interview candidates. Armed with a resume, questions to ask and the most reliable tool — their gut –– operators usually know who will be a good fit for their restaurant.

But seeing potential in the people around you is not exclusive to the interview process. Operators who continue to see past the job duties of their current staff to discover their hidden talents and who encourage an atmosphere of creativity will serve their customers, employees and business well.

“As much as you might see your server as the person who delivers your customers their meals, that same server may also have a gift of gab and the comfort level to make anyone their new best friend,” says Jennifer Martin, principal business consultant and EMyth Certified Business Coach at Zest Business Consulting in California. “If this team member can put your best foot forward they just might be one of your greatest assets outside the restaurant, too, in a marketing or networking role. Empowering your staff to do what comes naturally can help you grow your business in unexpected ways. They’ll love that you see them –– their talents, skills and passions –– for who they really are, and you’ll love the enthusiasm they bring when they are doing what they love.”

Bryan Mattimore, co-founder and “chief idea guy” at The Growth Engine Company in Connecticut and author of Idea Stormers, How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs, says that to uncover the talents and ideas of their staff, operators need to engage their employees, ask specific questions and foster a creative atmosphere that welcomes new ideas.

“People have to be allowed and encouraged to get involved and that happens if the operator gives up a bit of control and ego. It can’t be all ‘my’ idea anymore,” Mattimore says. “Operators have to learn to allow employees to have their own good ideas. But giving up control is so worth it because it can open you up to more ideas you wouldn’t have thought of on your own, especially ideas from young people.”

To identify talents of their staff, operators can start with what needs work.

“The key is giving some thought to where you might need support and then considering the characteristics, attitudes and skills that would be essential for someone to have in that alternate role,” Martin says.

Holding an audition-style job interview with 15 to 25 people is the best method Beth Standlee, CEO and owner of TrainerTainment in Texas, has used to identify talents.

“The greatest talent needed in a front-of-the-house position is personality, service mindedness and salesman/womanship. All other skills can be taught. In an audition, we have people participate in six specific activities that reveal their ability to be creative and engaging. We measure their teamwork abilities, we can understand what they value, and how they problem solve,” Standlee says.

making pizza Fuzzy's PizzaReveal talents by asking direct questions. “If you really want to tap into the source consider asking each person on staff to let the management team know about any other jobs or duties at the restaurant they would be interested in learning more about,” Martin says. “You can also ask them to tell you what their three greatest talents or skills are and what might be on their wish list if they could take over more responsibility at work.”

To generate new ideas from the staff, Mattimore recommends the White Board Technique which encourages teamwork.

“Put a white board in the operator’s office, away from public view, and pick a challenge that you need solved, like how to improve lunch sales on Wednesday,” Mattimore says. “Put it in the center of the board. Put the numbers one-10 on the bottom and leave the board up for seven to 10 days. Then everyday encourage people to put down more and more ideas and facts and each day, it grows, and people will start making connections between ideas because the brain will look for patterns.”

To get the idea ball rolling, Mattimore says operators should put down three to four ideas on the white board first, and after 10 days, operators should write down all of the ideas, thank the staff for their contributions and then act.

“Figure out which ideas you are going to use and use them or people will become cynical if nothing comes out of it,” Mattimore says. “Then do another challenge.”

Set the balance between additional creative duties and job responsibilities.

“Time management is critical,” Standlee says. “Many times we find leaders of an organization working on all the urgent important things, the day-to-day, while the important not-urgent –– celebrating and using an employees creative talents — go by the wayside. I know that no one wants to hear another lecture on time management but honestly, prioritizing and focusing on what’s really important can be a tremendous factor in shifting the duties of the leader.”
Entertain the possibility that hidden talents can lead to new positions.

“If a server becomes your part-time social media person they might be able to juggle both duties,” Martin says. “However, if they become your marketing field rep creating relationships with businesses in the area to help you grow your catering business, it might be a better opportunity for both employee and restaurant to let them move into the new position full-time.”

Eddie Lou, CEO and Co-founder of, says it makes sense for operators to allow staff creative licensing on duties that recur with frequency like social media updates and weekly specials changes.

“If you decide to open the door to new possibilities, the sky’s the limit,” he says. “The key is making sure that you are still hiring the best person for the new job whether they are already providing a service in-house or you are bringing them in from outside.”

DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Beaver Creek, Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.