Ego check Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

Steele Platt will never be successful. At least not by his standards, anyway.

Every time the founder and CEO of Yard House Restaurants LLC reaches another benchmark with his growing chain of upscale-casual eateries, he thinks back to the time when he lost it all.

“I’ve failed in the restaurant business and lost everything,” he says. “I went bankrupt and basically started my career over, coming back and opening the first Yard House with none of my money and then growing it into the company it is now.”

By staying sharp and avoiding complacency in his successes — whether that’s what he would label them or not— Platt has grown the 20-location restaurant group to include approximately 3,100 full- and part-time workers while posting 2007 revenue of $138 million.

Smart Business spoke with the leader about how to press your reset button and how to step back to get a better look at what’s happening under the hood.

Press your reset button. When you start opening two or three or four restaurants, they’re busy and packed, and then you think you’re really successful. ‘I’m going to go play golf,’ and this and that. Everything’s working out great.

 

The minute I think I’m successful, that’s when I fail.

Instead, you take a different route. I figure the worst can happen every day. You mentally prepare yourself for that. You don’t lean back on your heels. You lean forward and be ready to look at what’s in front of you on a daily basis.

It all starts with your mind. If you can reset your mind every day to create a little bit more humble mind and less ego and more aggressive to success and do it on a daily basis until you retire, then you’re in a better spot. If you kind of relax and say, ‘Things are going great,’ human tendencies tend to relax, and you’re’ not looking for the details that have made you a success in the first place.

Step off the pedestal. The first thing to hold (employees) accountable, you have to be honest. If you can’t, then it’s kind of hard to expect others to do it.

 

As much as we hold our employees accountable, they’re allowed to hold us accountable. It’s really like the hourly employees in our restaurants hold the managers accountable. It’s really like they’re the managers’ boss. If we hear a lot of employees start to chat and chatter about that manager, he gets called into the office. It’s not the other way around.

We’ve created e-mail access directly to the executives that an employee can access that only (we) read. It’s basically being able to connect to your front line and not putting yourself in a position of thinking you’re better or in a different class than them. You should get on their same level and be able to communicate with them.

Most of the employees appreciate that, but you still have friction between a lower-level employee and a CEO. It’s really how the CEO acts. Act humble and approachable and not so stiff and coat-and-tieish. If you can fit in with your employees, then it makes it that much easier for the company to be a whole company.

See the forest for the trees. A CEO needs to stand back and not get so involved and watch the people that he has employed really do their jobs. A CEO needs to really look at what the CFO does and what the COO does.

 

Take a step back, and you’ve really got to let the engine run itself. The CEO shouldn’t be a part of the engine. He should just be the mechanic who oversees the engine, and then makes sure all the parts are working.

If you become one of those parts, then you can’t see the whole engine. The CEO really has to have that macro look.

Hire similar apples. One bad apple ruins the barrel, (so) take the time to make sure the person coming in to the barrel is like all the other apples.

 

In the case of hiring somebody ... that person has to really be interviewed by three or four people. Look at their abilities to make sure they are who they say they are. Put them out on the floor and let them see if they can do what they say they can do.

It’s really having them interviewed by three or four people, going through an incubation period and then going from there.

Every once in awhile, you’re going to have somebody who just doesn’t fit, and you just have to be there in the beginning to say, ‘It’s not going to work out between us,’ and let them go. If you don’t, that’s going to create that cancer that might spread through the company to other areas.

Filter communication through a gatekeeper.
Every 30 days, we have a leadership exchange where all our key people meet. They share all of their leadership skills to one another, and hopefully, the good stuff rubs off on people, and we expose the bad things and make the group as a whole better.

 

There’s a lot of communication [during those meetings]. We have a gatekeeper who’s the vice president. Anything that anybody wants to talk about [during the meetings] has to go through him.

From him, it goes out to everybody else. We don’t have messages just crossing each other. They have to go through a single line of communication that goes out to everybody. That’s kind of a filter.

HOW TO REACH:Yard House Restaurants LLC, (949) 727-0959 or www.yardhouse.com