This card is not just a souvenir from employee orientation; it is a portable reminder of how Cleveland-based Strang Corp. does business.
“Between 10 and 15 years ago, the management team began talking about what made us different as a company,” says Strang Corp. President and CEO Don Strang III. “We set out to capture not only the things that we were doing but also what we wanted to be.”
Cleveland-based Strang Corp. operates restaurants in Ohio including Don’s Lighthouse, Pomeroy House and Panera Bread Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Indiana, and a restaurant and hotel in Illinois. Its Gold Card lists its values and beliefs, mission statement and guiding principles that have helped the company’s 1,500 employees bring in $50 million in 2005 revenue.
“When managers are caught in situations where they need to make decisions, we’d say, ‘It’s a Gold Card issue,’” Strang says. “It’s a reminder to make sure they handle things in an appropriate manner.”
Smart Business spoke with Strang about how his Gold Card helps employees make good decisions.
How did you implement the Gold Card into your company’s best practices?
(Every employee) is issued a Gold Card at orientation, and we encourage people to carry it with them. I would say the vast majority carry it with them and will refer to it because they like it.
Unit managers like it because it tells them how they’re expected to be treated and how we expect them to treat the people who work for them.
Every once in a while, I get called (about) how we are going to handle (a situation.) ‘I think we should do this.’ ‘Well, I don’t know whether that’s really consistent with the Gold Card.’ ‘Alright, let’s think about that. How does the Gold Card address this issue?’ It creates dialogue.
(In our restaurants), it is posted in the unit for them to look at and refer to. This really is something that guides our managers. It is a communication to an hourly associate at orientation as to how they should expect to be treated and how we would expect them to treat our guests.
How has that benefited your company?
It clarifies how we want our managers to conduct business, how we want all our people to treat our guests and what we value. We value shareholder returns, and it’s stated right on (the card) that there’s a right and a wrong way to do that.
In many cases, it allows us to clarify in an instance when we’re struggling with whether a unit-level manager is going to (continue working for the company.) One of his major faults is that he doesn’t treat his employees with dignity and respect. It really comes down to, this is a Gold Card issue for this person, and although this person might get some results, we can’t live with the way that they’re getting those results.
Although it may be good short-term, it’s not going to be good for us long-term. It has helped us be a guide to action over a long period of time.
How do you encourage Strang Corp. employees to follow the principles on the Gold Card?
We encourage that through coaching and counseling with managers when they have issues.
If we have customer feedback about issues in a unit, and our guests are telling us that they’re not getting the proper service, we can go back to the Gold Card and say, ‘Hey, do you have employees who have a positive attitude and are enthusiastic about the work they do?’ That’s right there.
We feel the most important attribute of an employee is a positive attitude. Who are you hiring? Are you hiring people who are looking you in the eye, smiling at you and are positive, or are you hiring a warm body? We encourage people to live by as many of these beliefs as possible.
How did implementation of the Gold Card change the way you do business at Strang Corp.?
Many of these things are things that we were already doing, things that the company believed in, and we just wanted to write it down for people.
In 1990, our business grew dramatically, and we were bringing a lot of new people on board. We felt like our values and our culture were getting diluted by people’s last employer.
If you increase your number of managers by 50 percent in a year and they bring in baggage from their last employer, you begin to see people handling situations that aren’t consistent with what your values and beliefs are.
We wanted to get everybody on track for what we expect: How they’re expected to treat their employees and their guests. The way they did it in their last job may not be what we expect here, so we just want to clarify what that is, and if this isn’t the way they want to conduct business, then don’t come work for us.
There aren’t a lot of people who are going to look at this Gold Card and say, ‘I have a problem with this.’ There are managers in our (industry) who manage by intimidation. There are people who will shoot to get results by being less than honest with suppliers.
We want people who are going to say, ‘This is what’s right, and this is how we do things.’ Not all managers in our industry conduct themselves in that way, and we want those who will.
Why is it important for you to share your philosophy with your employees?
We saw managers coming in and being overaggressive with disciplining employees. There’s a way to ask for performance, and you do it with dignity and respect, not intimidation and not in a demeaning sort of manner.
We began to see little hints of that sort of thing coming on, as well as some (who were being) less than honest with employees or suppliers to improve their own performance in their unit. That’s not how we do business. A lot of times it’s a gray area.
We found them making judgments on the wrong side of that gray area in some cases. We just wanted to clarify for everybody what we expected and how we expected them to conduct business.
Doing things in the short-term may increase the bottom line this month, but that’s not going to increase the value of the business over the long-term. You end up attracting people who have low integrity when you conduct your business that way, and in the end, that hurts the value of your business over the long haul.
HOW TO REACH: Strang Corp., (216) 961-6767 or www.strangcorp.com