Time to Lean, Time to Clean

 In Be The Leader, Create Loyalty, Your Employees

Ray Croc, founder of McDonald’s, had a saying to keep his employees motivated, moving and working: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Meaning, if you have time to lean against the counter with “nothing to do,” you have time to clean or be productive to make your customers’ experience a little better.

For those of us that have worked in a retail, restaurant or other customer-facing industry, this saying may be nothing new. But for those of us that have witnessed idle employees standing around with their phones in their hands, avoiding eye contact with patiently waiting customers, you might wonder if they’ve ever even had the notion to be proactive during their down time.

Recently, we came across an article on Serious Eats that detailed the daily operations (and heritage) of the time to lean time to cleanDairy Queen in Moorhead, Minnesota. This Dairy Queen operates the same way as it did when it opened in 1949: hand-making many of the frozen treats, dips, and toppings instead of using the pre-packaged corporate materials. Since the original 1949 contract is still in tact, this outpost of the ice cream chain doesn’t have to adhere to many corporate rules – and that’s the way owner Troy DeLeon likes it.

Aside from the fact that the hand-made goodies taste different (in the best possible way) than other Dairy Queens, DeLeon likes that doing things “the old fashioned way” keeps his employees busy.

“You go to most fast food restaurants and if it’s not busy, what is the staff doing? Sitting around, talking, getting into trouble, looking on their phones. We don’t have that problem,” he says. At the Moorhead Dairy Queen there’s always something to do: decorating cakes, dipping Dilly Bars or other novelties, filling special orders. And “If there isn’t something to make,” he notes, “there’s cleaning.”

This quote struck a chord with me. While it’s easy to write off idle employees as lazy or incompetent (and that may be the case) it’s truly the responsibility of managers to train their employees to always be working with a sense of urgency, and to be filling “down time” with productive tasks. By making expectations clear, and rewarding this type of “urgent” behavior, managers can transform their workforce into one that will prioritize customer service and generate loyal customers.

Do you enforce the “time to lean, time to clean” mentality at your business?

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