How to create a strong team of employees that care about your business.

How to create a strong team of employees that care about your business.

Dunce cap

A business is only as strong as the people it employs

Ask any person with dreams of opening a coffee business what the vision for their shop includes and 100% of the time it includes smiling employees serving customers. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Gosh, I hope I have grumpy people working for me!” or, “I want a bunch of employees who just do what they want, when they want and in the way they want”. But, especially in our industry owners often rely on a work force that can “get a job at McD’s anytime”.

Traits of a successful store

Success is not just making a profit, though that is definitely an important part of success. Success is having a store one can be proud of, one that the owner works on the business not in it and one that the owner owns, not the other way around. Following are some of the traits of a successful business:

  • Employees are interested in the job and want to learn.
  • Employees are happy, smiling and doing the job, not gossiping and ignoring the customers and demands of the store.
  • The store runs well even when the owner is not there.
  • Employees take pride in serving every customer as though it were their own store.
  • Employees do not steal from the business
  • Employees show up for their designated shifts.
  • Employees are trained and empowered to do the job.
  • Employees see and clean up the dirt and mess created on a daily basis.
  • Employees are comfortable with customers of different age and social groups.

4 Steps of Employment

Success in any business can only be accomplished through being a successful employer. Few people are naturally gifted as a great employer, but the skills can be learned. You may have a great vision for what you want to create, but actually creating it separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls. And as the old saying goes, if it were that easy, everyone would do it. Following are 4 steps that if implemented give the best guarantee that any store can be a successful store.

1. Hire the correct people

  • Know who you want – Are you looking for high school or college age employees or a “more mature” staff?
  • You get who you pay for – You may need to pay above the going rate for good employees. Make your place is the desirable place to work at and word will spread.
  • Create customized application – Make your own application and ask questions that help bring you and the desired candidate together (or use our free coffeeshop application!).
  • Use unique interview questions – Ask questions like, “If employment here was like a play, would you prefer to be the actor, the director, the producer or the props man?” (we hire a lot of actors)
  • Check references & prior employment – Look at previous jobs: did they work a lot of jobs for a short time (without good reasons like moved back to school). Contact previous employers to confirm accuracy of jobs listed. Ask for references. Contact personal references listed and ask about character of candidate. Ask if they would be a good hire. Ask about timeliness.
  • Bring them in twice – If at all possible have two people from you business meet and interview the candidate. If not, have them come in a second time. You may get a better feel the second time or see something you missed before.
  • Only hire “10”s – don’t be desperate – Only hire people you want to keep for the long haul. It doesn’t mean you will, but at least you’ll hire people that you think fit your business and will do things your way.

2. Make Clear your expectations – Workplace do’s and don’ts must be established and enforced.

  • Be diligent with legal paperwork – Have all employees complete and turn in all legal requirements (I-9, W-4s, etc.) as well as all of your stores required documents.
  • Employee handbook is a MUST – Top reasons to have an employee handbook:
    1. Perhaps the most important reason to have an employee handbook is to protect the company’s legal right to terminate employees “at will” (meaning the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason that is not illegal, and the employee can do the same.) Be careful to be consistent in your handbook and not create an implied contract and always check state and federal guidelines for your state.
    2. Helps management be more efficient.
    3. Staff will know what is expected of them.
    4. Written policies create uniformity and help prevent disputes.
    5. Written policies will communicate the direction of the business to employees.
    6. They allow you to communicate information from state or federal law.
    7. Written policies, when followed through with, will create a solid defense against frivolous legal action down the road. Issues such as favoritism, sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation can be avoided by a well drafted and enforced handbook
  • Important issues to be addressed in an employee handbook
      1. Pay – when is payday, what about vacation pay, etc.
      2. Work rules – parking, dress, piercings, tattoos, etc.
      3. Absence and sickness – if employee is sick who do they call and when?
      4. Time off – how to request time off, when is time off allowed and not allowed.
      5. Hours, meals, and breaks – how many breaks/meals per shift?
      6. Holiday pay – what days are the store closed, do employees get paid?
      7. Overtime – what is the legal overtime law for your state?
      8. Maternity, expectant and new mothers at work
      9. Scheduling – when is schedule posted, how can changes be made?
      10. Safety and accidents on the job – who fills out an accident report and for what?
      11. Training – what is expected of an employee to be considered fully trained?
      12. Evaluations – when are evaluations given?
  • Follow through on policies -A policy is only as good as follow through. To write out a policy or procedure and not follow through will bread resentment in employees. If one employee gets away with something the rest of the staff won’t know what to expect which will breed discontent and anarchy. It will also void any legal protection that well thought out and written policies give you.
  • What a handbook will not do
    1. Replace personal interaction – although a handbook is an important tool it should be only an accompaniment to a systematized training program.
    2. Explain every nuance of the day to day job – the handbook should guide and inform, not be a nit picky procedural document (you should have a procedural document or training guide for that).
    3. Substitute for good practices – what is written needs to be backed up by the actions of management.
  • Hire on a 90 day trial basis
    1. Set up a 30 day and/or 60 day review where management and employee talk about how the employee/employer relationship has gone. If either party is not satisfied this allows for a “no hard feelings” severing of the relationship.
    2. It will allow you to see work habits, which are rarely discernible before hiring.
    3. If the employee is not happy with the job, they will have an easier out. Better to find out right away then employee someone who doesn’t really want to be there.
  • Remember, no-one sticks with you forever. Every employee will leave someday. And even if there is the rare exception to this, it is important to have a mindset that thinks that way. It will keep you from becoming too dependent on one employee or think that any employee is irreplaceable.

3. Release them when it’s time

  • Starts at hiring – Prepare for an employees leaving before they are hired. Put expectations in your employee handbook (2 weeks notice is expected, last check can be withheld for certain reasons, exit interviews, references, etc.)
  • Regular policy follow through will ease any termination – Proper handling of discipline, corrective actions, and write ups will make letting go a poor employee “easy”. Follow the correct disciplinary procedure and make sure if you have it in writing, you follow it (do you show to employees to do what I say or do what I do?)
  • Various forms of release
    1. Firing or dismissal – If an employee must be fired and the legal aspects of employment conditions have not been addressed and followed through with the business and ownership may be subject to legal action. If an employee violates conditions of employment as stated in the handbook they must be fired. Verify state & federal requirements before termination. If a manager is to be fired, it is usually not a good idea to give notice. Managers on the way out can often do more damage than good.
    2. Quitting – Establish procedures when you hire staff, follow through with them, and when it comes time for an employee to quit most times they will do so kindly. Employees are expected to give 2 weeks notice when leaving, but are not required. Rarely take more than 2 weeks notice, it can create a lazy employee or allow any under the surface issues to surface.
    3. Long term absence – Most long term absence in the coffee industry is school related. Help employees leave well and they’ll come back. Training of employees costs hundreds and thousands of dollars.
    4. Lay off – on rare occasions you may need to lay off an employee for lack of work. This will allow an employee to collect unemployment in most states.
    5. Seasonal employment – especially college students may work for either 3 or 9 months (either while at school or while at home). Good employees can be utilized during school breaks and long weekends to the advantage of both parties.

4. Bring Back the good ones – An important part of employment is the way employees leave the business. Both good and poor performing employee can all be helped by a well run business.

  • Give good references for all good employees.
  • For employees that were fired give only dates of employment.
  • If you treat employees well from hiring to termination, you may get some back. We have re-hired many employees over the years and they are often our most valuable and well trained employees.
  • People in your town, industry, etc. will talk and a good reputation will bring in new good employees.
  • Why did they leave: Good reason or bad? Good – Moving on to their full time desired vocation; got a better paying full time position w/ bennies; done with school; moving to another city/state. Bad – Problem employee (system should weed them out – they either change or leave); problem with other employees/management; can’t handle work or workload or doesn’t fit with the job (90 day trial period eliminates this problem).
    • Get a written confirmation – If possible get written confirmation of employees desire to leave. It doesn’t have to be formal, but may help with any legal action later.
    • Do an exit interview – Find out from exiting employees what you did well and what you could improve on. Learn from the experience (may not be desirable or work with all employees.)
  • Consider your business a training ground – There are many young employees that have not had good training at home, had a poor experience at their first job or have not been trained right. You can change that, and them, for their next job.
  • Do what you can to help them move on – If you work to bless someone on their way out it makes you look good. Be happy for an employee who gets a full time job in their field or a high paying/full bennies job. Think in terms of what is good for them and they’ll return the favor.
  • Keep relationship with key former employees. Are you going to lose a good employee? If you have ended employment correctly with a “good” employee there is a good chance they may come back to you.
  • For all “good” employees, make sure when they leave you:
    • Give them a reference letter if desired.
    • Get and keep a current email address
    • Offer the potential of employment if they move back, change their mind, or other reason they may want to work for you again.
Having a great staff is truly one of the most rewarding aspects of owning your own small business. With them you can accomplish so much and without them you will most likely limp along until you die.


  1. What a complex and practice solution in HRM. Thanks for sharing

    • Sorry if I made it complex, that was not my goal. Although I’d like to say that hiring and employing a great staff is easy or simple, it’s not. And some people struggle more than others. Some people do well with the systems part of it (step1, step 2, etc.) and others do well with the personal side (relationship, emotional buy-in, etc.). It really takes a holistic approach to hire, build and maintain a great team…the goal of a business owner and to me the pinacle of success.

  2. Mcaimtree:

    Jack, are you able to afford health benefits (or any “bennies”) for your employees and yourself?  One of the concerns I have of opening my own shop is the possility of having to give up my health insurance to do it.

    • I cannot afford health insurance for my employees. I employee over 30 people and most of them are part time. Whether or not you carry your own insurance is a different question. Some coffee shops might offer health insurance only to certain people (full time, managers, etc.) but you would have to look at the expense, as well as the legal requirements, of offering health insurance to only some of your staff. There are ways to do it, but state and federal law, as well as various forms of insurance, will dictate some of what you are able to do or not do.

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