Purpose Over Policy

Purpose over Policy

A group of colleagues and I dine out together often, and everywhere we go we ask for separate checks.  99.9% of the time, that request is granted with no issues; until recently, it was met with an awkward response.  The “p-word”.  POLICY.  (insert the “’shaking my head” emoji here)

When a member of our party asked if separate checks would be okay for our party of 11, the server said, “That’s against our policy.”  His whole demeanor morphed from super-conscientious-friendly-server to guardian-of-my-manager’s-rules-at-all-costs.  Then he excused himself from the table. 

Moments later, his manager came to deal with us.

After a few more awkward questions and answers back and forth with the manager, we learned the maximum quantity of checks allowed was six. 

We realized we had a problem.

Many of us have worked in and around the hospitality industry for many years, so we exchanged glances, took simultaneous deep breaths, and immediately went into problem-solving mode.  In a matter of minutes, with quick a conversation we collaborated on a solution.  We simply broke our party up into groups for the server, and helped him with the organization as he took our orders.

You might be wondering why I felt compelled to write about this experience.  My guess is you’re either reading this because you lead people, serve people, or perhaps you’re seeking inspiration or encouragement. 

My purpose is to help people with all of the above, so there are a few things we can learn from our experience.  

Consider how the situation could have played out differently.

What if the restaurant’s leadership had clearly defined and articulated their purpose to their staff with as much passion and conviction as they’d clearly prioritized “their policy manual”?

What if on the first day of work every server, bar tender, leader, and everyone from the front of the house to the back of the house were told, Our purpose is to serve people, create stories worth telling, and feelings worth returning to for every single guest, every single night.”

If that were the case, here’s how the story above may have played out differently:

  • The server would have simply focused on what he could do for his party of 11, as opposed to what he couldn’t do.
  • The server would have solved the problem for his guests, as opposed to his guests solving the problem for him.
  • The guests in the situation would have felt extremely welcome, comfortable, and even somewhat important, as opposed to feeling awkward.
  • The guests would be telling a much more positive story about their experience, and they would return to the restaurant, again and again; as opposed to unanimously deciding to never visit the restaurant ever again.

As leaders, what if you and I shared the following purpose:

To serve people, creating stories worth telling and feelings worth returning to for every employee, every single day.

Others may very well follow our lead:

  • Leaders would focus on what they could do for their employees, as opposed to demanding what employees should do for them.
  • Leaders would solve problems with and for their employees, as opposed to expecting employees to solve problems for them.
  • Employees would feel welcome, comfortable, and important, not to mentioned valued by their leaders, as opposed to searching LinkedIn for jobs every hour on the hour.
  • Employees would certainly tell an inspiring story of what it’s like to work where they work, and they would look forward to giving their absolute best, every single day.

One for the road:

  • Guests, customers, and clients would have inspiring stories to tell, and they’d certainly feel emotionally connected to our organizations; in short, guests, customers, and clients would feel great because our employees would feel great.

Policies are necessary, but purpose is everything.

Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak

My wife and I went to Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak restaurant at Monarch Beach Resort, in Dana Point California for my 40th birthday.  I made a note in our Open Table reservation that it was my 40th birthday.  I also let them know about my background in and passion for hospitality, along with how much I love Michael Mina’s restaurant experiences in Las Vegas. 

From the moment we walked in the door, from the host and hostess up front, to our server, Lyle, to the martini cart guy (yep, there’s a martini cart involved), to the food runners, bussers, and even the beverage director who got involved in our conversation about bourbon, they were on purpose. 

Everyone was there to make sure we had the absolute best experience possible, literally creating stories worth telling (of which this blog post is a perfect example), and most definitely a feeling worth returning to for my wife and me.

The table with a view of the Pacific Ocean, the type of water we preferred, the nuanced martini creation based on our personal preferences and tastes, and right down to the temperature of our steaks and perfectly paired vegetables on the side, were all about us. 

We certainly felt welcome.  We felt so comfortable, we stayed for desert, after dinner drinks, and a great conversation about Angels Envy bourbon (my favorite), with our server, Lyle.  Speaking of Lyle, we felt important, when he came back around at the very last moment of our experience and told us the best part of his job is getting to know great people through amazing conversations like the ones he had all night with us. 

The best story Lyle told all night was about Michael Mina, himself.  Lyle told us that when Michael comes to the restaurant, it’s like seeing an old friend.  Michael makes it a point to visit with the staff, engaging them in conversation, and within minutes, he’s in chef whites in the kitchen working alongside his team, making magic happen.

When leaders pursue purpose over policy, employees become inspired to create experiences worth talking about and feelings worth returning to, every single day. 

When employees feel welcome, comfortable, and important, they make their guests, customers, and clients feel the same; because they walk, talk, and serve with purpose.

Have a great day.