Imagine you’ve been invited to a dinner party by a new acquaintance. You aren’t sure what to expect; will it be a sit-down evening with jazz music echoing from the speakers? Or will you be sitting at picnic tables strung around the backyard with a beer and the Spotify playlist set to yacht rock? Or is it a crowdsourced potluck where everyone will find a comfy spot to nosh and chat? Will the vibe be social and raucous or introspective and thoughtful?

The dinner party is part planning and part execution, where the host is responsible for creating the conditions and the guests are responsible for how they respond to them.

The culture of your restaurant is just like a dinner party. It’s the feeling, the soul, the vibe, and the unspoken rules of how a group will interact. You as the leader are responsible for some of it, and your team is responsible for some of it as well. It’s your job to invite the right people, get the lighting and music perfect, create the menu, and set the table. Your team is responsible for responding to that; you set the conditions, and they react within them. In that way, you get the culture you deserve.

Culture is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. It’s linked to improved results in almost every area of business. Positive cultures make it easy to recruit top talent, generate employee engagement, boost sales, and create a buzzworthy brand regardless of the size of your marketing budget. You can’t wait any longer to start getting intentional about culture.

Mise en place

In French culinary terms, “mise en place” means “putting in place.” When I start working with teams on improving company culture, we always start with the management team first. This is the area that has the most impact when setting the conditions, habits, and values of your team. Having the desired management behaviors clearly defined and consistently executed is the starting place for all healthy cultures.

You’d be surprised at the inconsistency in management styles, behaviors, and values across even a single restaurant location. Your restaurants’ culture starts with how managers respond, act, and behave. As you start to think about improving culture, start by documenting what’s expected of managers in a way that is clear, inspiring, and measurable. How do you want them to respond to difficult events? What’s your approach to performance management? How much feedback do you expect them to give to the team, and in what way should that be delivered? Make a simple list of three to five key manager values with three to five specific behaviors for each one.

Set the table

Every good dinner party includes some form of prepping and planning—and the same runs true for your culture, as well. This is where you start to get specific about the kind of place you are trying to create and start to define what that looks like so other people can help keep the party going. This is where you focus on your vision.

It makes it a lot easier for your team to help execute the big plan when they know what it looks like. Imagine your team is in a car and pulls up to a stoplight. It can continue ahead, make a U-turn, turn left, or turn right. Each of those is a good choice depending on where you want to go. You’ve got to have a clearly defined vision in order to properly set the table for success.

To get started with crafting a vision for your team, schedule 20 minutes alone outside of your normal day-to-day responsibilities. Grab a pen and paper, put a future date on the top of the page (it can be the end of this year or even five years out), and then start describing what things are like when you look around your business. Imagine you’ve hopped in a time machine and traveled to that future date, and you’re describing what you see happening. How are people interacting? How are decisions being made? What things are going on in the business? How are customers responding? What kinds of people are working? What are they doing? Get specific about defining what matters, what you want to happen, and what exactly it looks like if everyone is successful. Once you have this drafted, share it with a few people for feedback before finalizing it. The final version can be included in hiring, orientation, and other times as a reminder about what everyone is working toward.

As you think about your plans for 2018, how much importance have you placed on culture? Will you use the ideas above to create an intentional culture built by design, or leave it up to the luck? Make this the year that you create the kind of culture that engages your team, thrills your customers, and leaves your competition begging for your secret sauce.

Employee Management, Mike Ganino: Crafting Culture, Story