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Listen and Learn: 5 Ways to Improve Relations with Your Pizzeria Staff

Good help has always been hard to find. With an ongoing economic boom that dates back to 2010, it’s getting even harder. Good pay and benefits help, but they’re not enough, since many competing pizza restaurants offer similar packages.

Instead of hiring and training new employees, you're far better off retaining the ones you've got. So how do you keep your best employees on the job? Start by listening to them, just as you’d listen to the feedback of your customers. Show them that their ideas, suggestions, and opinions matter to you. Here are five ways to become a better listener:

1. Ask the hard questions. Ask questions that will allow your staff members to tell you something you may not otherwise hear from them. Be prepared for brutal honesty. How do they feel about your company as an employer? How do they feel about themselves as your employees? What do they think about your marketing efforts and your culture? What about the pay and benefits you offer? What do they really think about your food, your pricing, and your atmosphere? Would they recommend your pizzeria to their friends who are looking for the best pizza in town? Would they recommend it to others as a good place to work?

Related: How Derrick Tung of Paulie Gee's Logan Square pays and incentivizes his employees

2. Listen to everyone. Seek input from every employee, from the managers to the bus boys. They will always find something to complain about, and that’s OK—let them vent. You need to leave your ego at the door. Hourly employees in particular need to sense that you genuinely want their opinions and ideas about the restaurant’s strengths and weaknesses as well as potential opportunities that need to be explored. Your employees are your greatest marketing ambassadors. Listen to all of them with an open mind and learn.

3. Survey your employees confidentially. Develop an employee satisfaction survey. However, some employees may worry they’ll get in trouble for speaking their minds, so the survey must be self-administered, anonymous and absolutely confidential. Put a staff member in charge of the process and hold a company-wide meeting. Tell your employees why they’re being asked to fill out the surveys, assure them that their feedback will be taken seriously and explain that the survey will be anonymous. To ensure anonymity, you can create an online survey; companies such as SurveyMonkey even offer employee survey templates written by professional survey methodologists. If you choose to go with hard copies, have your employees drop their completed surveys into a pre-addressed Federal Express box that is then sealed in their presence for shipping to an independent research company or some other objective consultant for tabulation. (A number of companies offer these services for a reasonable fee.) If possible, don’t tabulate the results yourself. This will defeat the purpose, and you may not get honest answers.

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4. Be prepared for criticism. At the start of this process, you may feel nervous and think, “The staff is just going to slam me!” That’s not always the case, but if they do slam you, you might deserve it. There could be important lessons to glean from their negative comments. You may even think, “My employees aren’t really all that bright,” but you could very well discover the opposite: that they are not only bright but also caring, knowledgeable and insightful about your restaurant. They may have a lot to teach you-you just never asked them before. So be prepared for criticism, but also be prepared to learn something!

5. Treat problems as opportunities. Once the survey results are in, approach them with an open mind. Break the results down by category or employee activity, such as back-of-the-house, front-of-the-house, and management, and consider each category carefully. Use the comments to study your business from a big-picture perspective while also considering the individual smaller pictures that make up the whole. Think of “negative” comments as opportunities to solve problems and clear up misunderstandings.

This story was adapted from a previous article that appeared in 2014.