5 Steps to Build and Motivate a High-Performance Team

Hiring and employee retention are never-ending challenges that seem to get more difficult each year.

Much of the “blame” for employee turnover and a shallow labor pool has been thrust upon Millennials. They’ve been declared disloyal, disnterested in working hard, and difficult to manage. Millennials have even been blamed for “killing” products, services, and entire industries.

All that blame is misplaced, as we’ve reported several times before. According to T.J. Schier, president and founder of Incentivize Solutions and S.M.A.R.T. Restaurant Group, Millennials aren’t as different from previous generations as many like to think.

During his 2019 National Restaurant Association Show presentation, Schier revealed that the average retention rate of those aged 35 and under was the same 30 years ago as it is today. The keys to succeeding in hiring and retention are knowing what you’re hiring for and managing at the highest level.


Hiring, says Schier, is a lot like fishing: You must know where to go to find the right fish. You have to fish at the right time and put the right bait on the right hook.

The first step in hiring isn’t identifying what jobs need to be filled, it’s knowing what kinds of people you want to hire. Consider what skills and traits you want and need each position in your bar, nightclub or restaurant to have.

Check this out: Stop Whining About Hiring

For step two, Schier suggests analyzing your current team. Look at your best team members and ask yourself a simple but important question: “What do they have that's better than the rest of the team?”

Step three is looking for holes in your team and filling those positions. Schier recommends working with an assessment vendor to vet applicants. For example, Snagajob can set up 15-minute assessments for applicants to go online and fill out. But here’s Schier’s expert twist on these services: Have your best team members fill out these assessments first. Review their results to determine what to look for in applicants.


This could easily swap places with hiring, becoming step one in this process. Regardless, utilizing a three-grade system, go through your staff today and rank your team:

  • A = Rock stars
  • B = Perform at the level the manager on duty allows
  • C = Anchors (they keep you stuck in the same place)

You know what to do with your highest- and lowest-graded team members. Obviously, you keep rock stars. And just as obviously, C-grade employees need to go. As Schier sees it, you're better off paying A- and B-grade team members overtime than keeping anchors. You’ll never improve your team members’ performances across the board with anchors on the team.

Unfortunately, operators must reckon with the irony that they may lose their rock stars but anchors never seem to leave on their own. Rock stars know how good they are—if you don’t treat them right, someone else in your market will.

Check this out: The Traits of an Outstanding Team

It’s the B-grade team members that can be a conundrum. Many have the potential to become rock stars, they just aren’t motivated to reach that level. You’ll have to decide if that’s because you’re not focusing on or incentivizing them enough, or if they just aren’t interested in working any harder.

After you’ve ranked your team members, think about this bit of Schier wisdom: “You get what you tolerate.”


Revisiting the fishing analogy, dropping more hooks in the water in the right locations means you’ll catch more fish. Sites like Snagajob, Shiftgig, Hirewire and CareerPlug can help you find and build the right team. There are also industry-specific sites like All Bartenders and PoachedJobs you can use.

Another benefit of some of these sites is they can help you manage your reputation as a business owner. Remember, word about what kind of operator you are to work for spreads—your reputation is a recruitment tool.

Check this out: 5 Tips for Handling Negative Restaurant or Bar Reviews

Schier recommends texting applicants the moment they bite one of your hiring hooks because it’s how most people communicate these days; it’s quicker than email and time is of the essence when hunting for top talent; and it boosts your reputation as a modern-day operator serious about building the best team.

One of your greatest hiring resources, however, is your current team. If they’ve bought into your culture and trust you as a leader, they’ll be willing to help you find your next top applicants. Offering a small referral kickback ($100, $150) to team members who find new recruits is a great way to keep rock stars engaged and show that you value them. A-grade team members who take an interest in helping you build the team will often police other members, making sure they fall in line and perform up to your standards.


According to Restaurant.org, restaurants employ 15.1 million people in the United States—the restaurant workforce makes up 10 percent of the overall workforce. By 2028, 1.6 million new restaurant jobs will be created. That’s just restaurants—those statistics don’t account for the entirety of the hospitality industry.

It has been clear for some time that front- and back-of-house positions aren’t just jobs, they’re careers. Improve your recruitment and hiring by improving the messaging you use when seeking applicants to fill open positions. Schier suggests using a term like “hospitality professionals” when fishing for talent. That’s a great way to indicate you’re not just looking for bodies, you’re after the best of the best.

Check this out: 3 Effective Ways to Use Social Media to Attract Guests

Schier also recommends using social media to your advantage. If applicants are hunting for jobs on job sites via their phones, odds are they’re also checking social media. So, tell your story online, on social, and through hashtags. Potential hires may not follow you (yet) but they probably follow hashtags you can use. This is another way you can engage with your rock stars: have them share their stories about how much they like working for you on social platforms.

Of course, not everyone lives on social media. There are people, believe it or not, who aren’t obsessed with Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. To get your story and the stories of your rock stars in front of them, encourage your top performers (remember those referral kickbacks?) to visit other businesses and recruit their top talent.


It may seem counter to what some operators believe but paychecks and tips aren’t really work incentives. Those are both the standard motivations for people to work, whether they do their job well or not.

Benefits can be an incentive, although today’s employee expects at least a basic benefits package from an employer. Additional responsibilities accompanied by increased status within an organization and more money, bonuses and kickbacks, and profit-sharing are incentives.

According to Schier, profit-sharing and other incentives are more effective than raises. However, the most effective incentive is personal to each employee. As an example, Schier has offered chips that were “worth” $1 throughout shifts. Team members who performed at the level expected of them—or beyond—earned the chips. They could redeem them for whatever they wanted: movie tickets, concert tickets, gift cards, etc. Schier has also incentivized his teams—and built teamwork at the same time—by adding money to a tip jar for every hour that the bar and kitchen teams made no mistakes.

Check this out: Instagram Live Menu Review! Chef Brian Duffy Shares Valuable Menu Insights

Figuring out what each team member prefers as an incentive is where communication with your team comes into play. It’s also where the entire process—reputation to recruitment to hiring—becomes a circle. Offering the right incentives means knowing your team, which leads to a boost in your reputation as an operator, which leads to improved recruitment, which leads to better hiring, which leads to getting to know new hires and what incentive they prefer. Repeat, repeat, repeat until you’ve built a team loaded with rock stars.