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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

can I get my new managers to listen to feedback?

A reader writes:

I work at a fast food place. I took the job because it was literally the only one I could get: I have a college degree and some professional experience, but not much, and I really needed a job. I've been promoted here, and that's good, and up until now the place has been very tolerable and even fun.

However, we've recently come under new ownership. The new franchisees are changing just about everything. We used to work for the only food place that offered health benefits to regular employees, even part-time ones. Now, all benefits (including employee discounts) are gone, and every little thing, from the way we take drive-thru orders to the dress code, is different.

Some of this I can understand. They want to make money. But some of the new rules are just ridiculous. Customers are getting angry (the new owners won't even let the napkins be stored in the dining room; customers have to come to the counter and ask for them. This is a major pain in our asses and the customers know what the new owners think of them). Pretty much all employees hate the new owners and are looking for other jobs.

My question is, to what extent can I do something about it? I'm a shift lead at one of 22 stores they now own. They claim to value employee feedback and retention, but their position on benefits betrays them (seriously, if they let employees have 50% off while they're working, they recoup the cost of the ingredients, so they're not even losing money!). I've written two letters about specific issues (one an employee incentive program and the other a note on some dress code issues), both done very professionally and deferentially, and have received no reply to either. To what extent is this feedback simply annoying to them? To what extent can I truly hope to change policy over 22 restaurants?

Yeah, you're probably annoying them. That's not because feedback is annoying, but because their silence indicates that these people in particular aren't into hearing it.

Now, good managers would want feedback, especially from someone on the front lines who has a different vantage point than they do, and especially when they're making a lot of changes, some of which will likely play out in ways they didn't anticipate, because that's what happens with change sometimes.

And good managers would also respond to feedback in some way -- even if they consider your input and decide they disagree, or that there are other priorities that trump your points, or whatever. Greeting it with silence pretty much sends the message that they don't care to hear from you, no matter what you have to say.

So no, I don't think you have much chance at changing things, because they've indicated they're not interesting in hearing it.  

My advice is to use the experience as a good case study in managing change. If you look at it from a distance and try to be objective about where they're probably coming from, I bet there are some good lessons in there about why bad changes get implemented, how good changes can be ruined when the communication about them is mishandled, and other interesting aspects of managing major business changes. Sometimes living through bad management can teach you a lot.


A Girl Named Me said...

In my experience, if a company isn't interested in gathering opinions, they generally don't ask for them. Those who don't care don't bother with the lip service.

The writer says that this is a recent change . . . and that the franchisees have taken on 22 stores. That's a lot to manage - perhaps they've been overwhelmed with the amount of communication they've been getting and simply can't manage it all.

As a shift leader, I would propose that your first stop should be your store's general manager. Because that person is much closer to the owners, they're in a better position, especially in these confusing early days, to know what's going on.

Anonymous said...

If you've already written 2 letters and received no response, I guess my only question is - what's the owner's success rate? And by success, I mean measurable longevity in this field.

They may know how to run a business snd turn a profit. At the same time, they're cutting costs, making your job, just a job, not a place anyone wants to put down roots. If you're in it for the long haul with this employer, it could make a difference in your tenure, but if you're using them for experience, get the experience and pump up the resume.

TheLabRat said...

"Now, good managers would want feedback, especially from someone on the front lines who has a different vantage point than they do"

Pro-tip: there are very few good managers in food service. I'm not saying they aren't out there; I've worked for a few. But if that's your criterion (and for the sake of argument lets pretend it's the only criterion) then nearly all retail/fast food/wage slave managers suck. Seriously.

I feel for you OP, been in nearly identical positions before.

McDManager said...

If the owners have 22 store, then they know how to make a profit by cutting expenses.

Because the turnover rate is so high in the business, they look at the employees as expendable & could care less if anyone quits because they can just hire someone else off the street and have them trained in no time. They probably don’t want experienced employees because they cost too much money.

The owners also look at the customers with distain. They see them wasting items needlessly (napkins, ketchup, drinks) and over the 22 stores, that is going to add up to some major cash. So they don’t care if they lose a few of the annoying customers.

To top it all off, the owners think everyone is stealing from them (employees & customers) so they don’t care about anyone’s opinion really.

Don’t waste your time or breath try to fix the problems because they don’t care.

Marsha said...

Life is too short to live through this kind of scenario - I say get out of Dodge!

Kim Stiens said...

OP here... yeah, I hear ya. I wish I could just quit, but I live in a high unemployment area, so I have to live with it who knows how much longer!

I will just try to get all I can out of the situation and get the hell out as soon as I can! Thanks AAM for the sound advice, and thanks, lovely posters, for all the feedback!

Class factotum said...

You realize this is the beginning of your application essay for business school, right?

Rebecca said...

Class factotum FTW!

(that's "for the win," just to save anyone a trip to Google ;) )