When a team member at Grill Concepts Inc. was diagnosed with cancer, Philip Gay took a gamble.
“We had a poker night,” says the president and CEO. “All the proceeds were donated, and then we matched it dollar for dollar with the company.”
Though the employee eventually lost his fight with the illness, Gay’s commitment to his 2,300 employees hasn’t waned. He continues to stress the importance of the person, and uses the acronym PEOPLE Pride, Excellence, Opportunity, Profit, Leadership and Enjoyment to outline the key tenets of the company’s culture.
By putting people before profit, Gay led Grill Concepts Inc. to 2006 revenue of $80.7 million up 14 percent from the previous year.
Smart Business spoke with Gay about how making your business feel more like home can keep your employees from going elsewhere.
Q: How do you foster a family culture?
It’s not just about making a profit. Take care of the team members, and the profit will follow.
We go out of our way to attend life cycle events: births, weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. At restaurants, we hold annual Thanksgiving dinners where we invite the community to participate.
When someone has a problem, we take care of them. We had one team member, who recently had just joined us, and her house burned down. We gave her some money to put her back on her feet.
The company has benefited directly through a lower turnover. Our turnover ratio is about half of what the industry has. On management, the average turnover’s around 30 percent, and we’re around 17 percent.
Q: How do you encourage feedback from staff?
A lot of the people that work in the company have the answers. Sometimes they’ve been put into a culture where they don’t come forward with suggestions, or they’re not encouraged to brainstorm.
In Japan, they have thinking sessions. They sit in their office, blank desk, and they close their eyes and they’re thinking. Not that that’s going to come into American culture, but it raises the question: Are we always being reactive, or do we stop to make sure that we’re plotting the root for our growth going forward?
Have lots of meetings. Have lots of encouragements. Whether it’s lunch or dinner, make time. Talk to them. Sometimes I say, ‘Just came by to say hi and tell me what’s going on.’ No agenda. No nothing.
I give people my cell number. I give out my e-mail. We have a private Philip-and-Bob line Bob’s one of the founders. You can call that line and leave either an anonymous note or a message that you want someone to call you back on.
It’s maintaining that open-door policy of being really sincere. When someone comes in, you’ve got to give them the time of day. You don’t answer the phone. You don’t start doing your e-mails while they walk in. Give them eye contact. Make them know you care that they came down.
Some people might have nine lousy ideas but one great idea. Don’t you want to hear that one great idea?
Q: How do you motivate employees?
Eventually, it’s the WIIFM factor What’s in it for me? People are always thinking about it, so why don’t you be upfront? It’s like, ‘Here’s what’s in it for you.’
We have what we call our PEOPLE awards every month. We reward team members that have exhibited the kind of behavior that we want. We give them cash rewards every quarter. Each and every restaurant gives a $200 award to a member that has been given the awards on a monthly basis. We have an annual award, where we bring one member to our leadership conference and give him $1,000 cash.
It’s not just about the money. It’s all about bringing everyone together, getting the spirit of teamwork and accountability, and enjoying each other’s company.
They have those conversations, ‘Hey, I have this problem. How do you handle it? I want to talk to you about how you handle X, Y and Z.’ It’s about who’s the best of the best and how do we learn from what they’re doing.
Q: What do you look for when hiring?
Surround yourself with people that you enjoy working with. It’s just as important to surround yourself with people you have good chemistry with almost more important than their skill set.
We have a lot of people interview them. Any general manager that we hire, I will interview as well as our VP, area director and a few other people. They go through significant steps before we hire them.
If you have someone that’s the brightest of the bright, but they just don’t fit in, then they’re not going to be part of your company going forward.
HOW TO REACH: Grill Concepts Inc., (310) 820-5559 or www.dailygrill.com