Luella Bartlett admits that in her younger days, she was a shockingly poor employee who always thought that she knew best. So it’s probably a good thing that she fell into starting her own business, The Professional Bar and Restaurant School (PBRS), with her husband, Scott.
Scott founded the company in 1993 when he bought it for $500 from a friend who wanted to windsurf more. At that time, the company was a one-man-band that taught two-week bartending courses. Luella Bartlett joined PBRS in 1998, and they began to expand aggressively.
Today, PBRS employs fifty-four people in two locations and provides hospitality-training services to international students for the global industry. Their services include courses on cooking, food and beverage, and hotel management. Moreover, they help most students attain a position in the industry for twenty hours per week while they’re studying.
It’s funny that Luella was once a nightmare employee, because as a business owner, she is really on top of her game. It takes innovation and leadership to turn a tiny how-to business into a full-fledged college that follows government compliance and attracts an international student body.
Keeping The Professional Bar and Restaurant School as a leader in the industry is no small task. Luella shared the following management and leadership best practices.
Accountability for All
The PBRS executive management team regularly meets with a governance board of directors, which includes KPMG. Annually, they conduct a strategy planning session, and PBRS leadership meets with the board once a month to report on progress. In fact, each department head must also provide monthly updates on metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Since entrepreneurs are usually the boss, they often don’t answer to anyone. Some like it that way. That’s why they start their own businesses. Others crave a mechanism for keeping themselves accountable. One of the reasons why PBRS is so successful is that Luella finds accountability through her governance board to objectively measure, monitor, and improve their business performance.
Luella Bartlett considers herself a “fire-starter”: she thinks of great ideas but knows that only by hiring the right people will her vision come to fruition. Well-aware of her personal weaknesses, Luella has brought a GM onboard to oversee management and implementation of strategy. It’s clear that this ability to put her ego aside has helped the company to run more efficiently.
Recently, PBRS has implemented some great systems and technologies to streamline communication and processes. For HR, Luella leverages Sonar6, an online HR solution that everyone in the company uses to input and receive feedback on their performance.
A performance review usually takes only twenty minutes using this tool because the feedback between staff and manager is accessible online prior to the face-to-face meeting. The bulk of the in-person review then covers discrepancies and formalizes growth and career opportunities in the staffers’ personal development plans.
Separate Performance and Compensation Review
In the past, PBRS conducted both of these reviews at the same time, but Luella discovered that people expected a compensation increase whether or not they had done a good job, regardless of the company’s financial performance. They now hold pay reviews once a year, in January. Performance reviews may be quarterly, with some biannually, depending on the position. Since separating the two, Luella feels much better. She feels that the company still hasn’t hit on the perfect process for evaluating compensation, but they’re constantly reviewing and trying to improve.
No Reviews = No Pay Increase
Many companies suffer from overdue performance reviews. To combat this, Luella implemented a policy whereby managers don’t receive their own review and pay increases until they’ve completed their staff reviews. She posts online the completed reviews and those that still need to be done, creating a powerful peer-pressure incentive to complete staff reviews on time. Only after all reviews are done can managers then receive a review of their own performance.
I think this is a brilliant idea. I’ve known organizations that have dragged reviews from Q1 into Q2. But aligning a manager’s own review with their team’s review is commonsensical and easy.
— David Niu
Seek Consistency Across Departments
Luella admits that, across all departments, compensation grading needs better consistency. They’re able to map the performance of every employee on a grid, and it becomes clear which managers are more generous in their evaluations. They’re continually monitoring and improving this process; the HR manager is taking courses and plans to train the managers on how to do it better.
Hire People that Fit the Culture Since people are among PBRS’s most important assets, Luella is committed to hiring based on cultural fit. “Skills can be taught,” she reasons. However, people either click with a given culture or they don’t.
Luella and her husband have created a winning combination. Recognized as the supreme winner of the Westpac Waitakere Business Awards, PBRS attracts students from all over the world, especially from countries that have developing service economies like China and India. I found it interesting how those qualities which are so important to being the best in the hospitality industry—innovation, leadership, and staff—are what have propelled PBRS to success. The IT tools that Luella uses help ease the HR dilemmas that drive other managers to the brink of madness, and these techniques enable her to focus on the vision of her business’s future growth.