I have often praised Waffle House for their execution and culture which frankly amazes me in this modern world. They have relatively low turnover and people working there generally seem very happy. I have jokingly suggested that it must be all the greasy food they serve that creates the happiness. Recently I asked an employee why he had stayed with Waffle House and he told me about their employee stock program. For the past year I have been stunned at how this culture works so well.
That is until this morning, which started out the same way as usual. However, I noticed my waitress Gail was not happy this morning when I got there at my usual 6:40 arrival time. As she placed my usual ham and cheese omelet order, nothing seemed to be wrong. That is, until I watched as the grill operator seemed to be struggling to fulfill it. I thought he had been the same one to make my omelet last week, but apparently not.
After about 20 minutes of failed attempts to make it he finally gives up and tells Gail he can’t … “nobody taught me how to make a ham and cheese omelet!” What? Waffle House didn’t train him how to make whatever they had on the menu? Apparently not. And, worse yet, his performance making everything else seemed to go to pot.
This reminded me of a scene in the movie The Replacements which I have also blogged about in the past. The team has suffered a humiliating defeat even though everyone was trying hard, but they didn’t really know how to perform as a team yet. After all, the strike had thrown everything into chaos and they were all learning how to play as a team.
The coach has an after game review of what happened and stresses that fear of failure was at the root of all this. After several silly comments about what made each player fearful, Keanu Reeves uses the phrase quicksand to summarize the basis. Here is a link to the scene.
It is a profound thought and in some ways captures the challenge today in many companies. Perhaps most damning this morning is that no one took the opportunity to respond to that employee’s cry for help. They let him wallow in it. Someone else made the omelet … they missed the opportunity to pull that employee up … and they all suffered for it.