Each time I get a call from a restaurant group wanting to work on employee engagement, it usually starts the same way. I’ll get a nicely designed document with their mission and values perfectly written. Sometimes this information is on their website. They usually share it during employee interviews, throughout the onboarding process, and maybe once a year during performance reviews. But for some reason they aren’t able to see the values brought to life every day in their restaurants.

Restaurants from local mom-and-pop shops to regional chains to mega global brands have done a good job of outlining their values. These values help to differentiate a brand and define a culture, and can be a powerful tool in leading a brand on a daily basis. Values let your team know what is expected of them and define what great behavior looks like so you have a better chance of getting it consistently.

But to really benefit from the power of strong cultural values, you have to go beyond a few interview questions and a few slides during new-hire orientation. Your values have to come alive in everything you do; it’s important to deeply embed the values of your organization into the way you work together, make decisions, and perform your duties. It should be an all-hands effort to help bring your values to life in your company.

Here are some simple ways to ensure you’re off to a good start.


Your interviewing can be based around hiring people who align with your values and who have acted in line with the behavior norms. It’s much easier to teach someone some of your systems and protocols than to change how someone acts or believes. By asking behavioral questions focused around your values, you can get an idea of how the candidate may work within your organization.


When considering important decisions, your values and behavior norms can be the guide for choosing between two courses of action. In a meeting around an important decision, use the values to ask, “What do our values dictate we do in this situation?” and “How does that decision line up with our stated values and desired behaviors?” This is one of the key places where your employees and the public will be watching you to see if you really mean what you say when it comes to what you value.


Use the onboarding and orientation process to include examples of your values in action. Tell stories about instances when the values were used to shape decisions, and explain how those values have been challenged over time.

Employee engagement.

Create campaigns around the values throughout the year. If you use an online employee recognition or social media platform, try a #values campaign when an employee recognizes another living the values. Create a values month when different employee-sourced stories about values in action are shared publicly, or make the first Friday of each month a values day when one of the values is highlighted with stories and examples from around the organization. If you have an employee newsletter or blog, create a values column that highlights an employee-submitted values recognition.

Learning and development.

Align your training and development offerings with your values. If you value innovation, offer an online course around creativity at work. If you value learning from failure, bring an improv trainer a few times a year to teach a workshop about learning how to make the most of mistakes. Have an executive team member give a class or lunch-and-learn session about the values each month or quarter.


Gathering feedback about your values in action is an important part of living your values. As your organization grows, it will become even more important. You can set up some easy feedback loops to help you ensure things haven’t gone off course. If you do 360-degree performance reviews, make the questions about how individuals are behaving in line with the values. Create a survey about your leaders and ask employees to share examples of your managers living the values or examples of why they don’t think they do. During one-on-ones, ask questions about how your team sees others exhibiting the values.

Regardless of whether you work in a global brand or a local pizza place, you can use the power of your company’s values to improve your culture, drive results, and boost the engagement of your team. Whether you are a shift manager, general manager, regional director, or owner, you have the power (and frankly, the responsibility) to use your values to provide value to your team. You don’t need permission to be a values-driven leader at any level

Employee Management, Mike Ganino: Crafting Culture, Restaurant Operations, Story