Employee Engagement Drivers – Insights from a Restaurant Server, Microfinance & Fred

It happened again at lunch yesterday. My friend Russ and I were minding our own business and enjoying our conversation, chips and salsa when we were ambushed by great customer service. Guzman, an enthusiastic 20-year employee of Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant, was the culprit. He inherently understands the key employee engagement drivers.

Employee Engagement Drivers - Guzman Understands

Guzman, a standout, 20-year server at Garcia’s.
Photo Credit: Todd Kemp

That’s not a typo. Guzman, our server, has worked at this Denver restaurant for twenty years, most of them as a full-time employee.

“Twenty years!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, twenty,” he replied proudly.

According to the Nation’s Restaurant News, restaurant employee turnover is chronically high, averaging about 44% in the casual dining segment. Guzman apparently didn’t get that memo. In fact, Guzman would score his employer high on any survey of employee engagement drivers.

It begged my next question. “Why have you worked here for so long?”

Good Manager + Good Team = Employee Engagement Drivers

Without hesitation, Guzman insisted, “I have a good manager and a good team. I like the people here.”

His ready, confident answer reminds me of another conversation with a 60-year employee who attributed her long tenure to serving a great boss and a great mission.

Guzman went on to say that his manager, the owner, has trained employees to take care of all the details. He knows how to handle everything that goes on in the restaurant. He said that while it doesn’t pay a lot, he has stayed here so long because he’s treated well.

What’s Guzman’s insight into employee engagement drivers and employee retention? Social capital.

Microfinance and Relationships

I first heard the term social capital a few years ago when I asked my friend Chris Horst why the microfinance organization for which he works, HOPE International, generated such high loan repayment rates (96%) among its clients. Rated in the top 2% of all non-profits by Charity Navigator, HOPE serves the working poor in impoverished countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Haiti. Its mission is to alleviate physical and spiritual poverty through microenterprise development.

Chris’ answer to high repayment rates was social capital. Clients are personally invested in the lives of their borrower’s group. The group decides who gets to join the borrowing cohort and is responsible for their peers’ repayments if somebody runs into trouble.

HOPE International CEO Peter Greer and co-author Phil Smith, in their book, The Poor Will Be Glad, say that the most powerful aspect of microfinance “may be its ability to form lasting, deep relationships, typically involving the borrower and the loan officer.” Herein lies the opportunity for significant transformation of individuals and communities.

Relationships + Employee Engagement = Extraordinary

Our restaurant server Guzman is friendly, attentive without being overbearing, and engaged. He gave us the kind of service that made me notice. He has a way of being that suggests he takes pride in his vocation. For Guzman, serving customers is his craft.

He provides the kind of service that Mark Sanborn writes about in his books, The Fred Factor and Fred 2.0. Here’s how Mark describes it in his latest book:

What makes anyone – regardless of their position or work – memorable and extraordinary? We are most impressed not just by the quality of a person’s work but also by the way he or she treats us. Relationships are key.

Leadership Insight – Social Capital

As we left the restaurant, another server who overheard our conversation called himself the “new guy,” having worked at the restaurant for only six years! Once again, that’s exceptional for an industry where nearly half the workers turnover every year.

People engage when they’re invested in relationships.

Loans get repaid as microenterprises grow and lives flourish. Good servers stick and help cultivate winning customer experiences.

Relationships are key employee engagement drivers.

Questions: To what extent is social capital a competitive edge for your team? What’s the single, most potent step you could take in the next week to grow your team’s social capital and boost your employee engagement drivers? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I invite you to join the conversation.