Single Origin Shots

Rewarding (And Retaining!) Your Staff

Creating a roadmap for your business requires a solid grasp of where you want it to go—and an equally solid handle on reality. In the United States, a lot of people are still anticipating the return of economic “norms” as we once knew them. In speaking with people in my own back yard, it seems a sense of historical entitlement has some of them believing that America will soon “get back to normal.”

No need to dust off my economics degree in order to surmise that when the U.S. economy (and especially the global financial system) finds its new equilibrium, it will look nothing like it once did. The days of unsubstantiated lending and resulting gluttonous spending are over, replaced by apprehension not unlike your post-depression-era grandparents experienced after the most infamous financial drought of the last century.

What does all this mean to you, the coffee roaster and/or retailer? Not the penny pinching you might expect. In this economic climate, people are seeking small rewards for themselves at a great value. And in a market that is becoming fairly educated about great coffee, they will be willing to spend more on your product than a $1.75 espresso from a major chain. A quick cost-benefit analysis will deliver them to your counter prepared to invest $3.50 in a private-estate shot of El Salvador Finca Kilimanjaro, hand-crafted by a confident, friendly professional who makes eye contact and breaks the ice.

Recently, while standing in line at a coffee shop in Los Angeles, a friend and I were discussing the double standard of “line standing” for consumers. What is it about that coffee shop or well-tuned specialty coffee shops as a whole that makes people actually want to stand in line?  A woman in front of us chimed in with her opinion: “ Unlike getting coffee at a food place, I can be sure they won’t mess up my order.” They care about my coffee even more than I do, and my coffee is very personal to me, so I value that immeasurably.” When it was my turn to order and the barista greeted us, the woman winked and grinned as she left, as if to say “See, I told ya.”

A confident, informed coffee professional—a true barista who ensures that perceived value is exceeded every time—is a key to your success. Their personalized, accurate attention accompanied by consistently high-quality boutique coffees result in a not-so-guilty pleasure that consumers will see as a worthy investment.

Forthcoming is a generation of seasoned recession warriors willing to slow down and be schooled by their chosen coffee expert on the latest trends in innovative brewing methods or intimating as to how to grind their coffee at home without stress. During these conversations, customer service skills work hand in hand with the in-depth coffee knowledge that you, the employer, have empowered each member of your staff with.  At that very moment, lightening may even strike, where the consumer suddenly finds their hand on a bag of whole-bean coffee to enjoy at home. There you have a perfect world with your well-trained barista making your customer’s day and keeping them tuned in to the incomparable pleasure of great coffee.

But what if that key barista were to leave your shop for another coffeehouse? As a café owner, you’re probably almost too busy to stop the bleeding. You’re strapped for time, cash for goods, labor dollars, etc. But turnover can occur as fast as you find your organizational equilibrium. You are so busy, you don’t even have time to conduct an exit interview, which is just one reason it’s important to avoid turnover whenever you can. And it’sot just because you’ve lost time and money in training either, but because retaining the ambassadors for what’s unique about your business (its Unique Value Proposition) is what keeps it alive.

Rewarding your staff is one of the best ways to retain them. But the way you reward them depends on your UVP and the set of personal values your staff brings to the table.

Take the Millennial generation for instance, who are tuned into every new wave of digital communication out there. They are programmed to measure a job well done by the impact they are able to make toward something good. They seem to be attracted to any combination of academic-meets-civil-service task. Knowing this, it might be a good time to mention the idea of tuition reimbursement to your accountant in order to weigh potential job-benefit offerings.

For a manager of this specific group, the pressure is on you to be a leader, and to provide structure. Once Millennials know the boundaries, they will work as a group to conceive profit-driven feedback while also improving on your current model. And once this culture is groomed, it will take continual nurturing by way of performance interviews on a semi-regular basis. (Save the pay reviews for bi-annual or annual terms, or better yet, per 1,000 worked hours. )

Here is where the rubber hits the road. Now is the time when specialty coffee can take its place in people’s lifestyles. It’s our time to realize what only a few years ago seemed like an unattainable pipe dream. We are unique as independent coffee organizations, with our own character, culture and vibe. Culture is where value comes in, and in the new economy each of us in our own unique way have an opportunity to create and cater to a demand for higher quality. This works if you, the owner, see value in it—buy in comes from you first.  Now is a good time to analyze who you are, who your customers are and who your staff is. Once you have clarity on these basics it will help you understand what motivates each.



The things that motivate people and make them feel rewarded can, in some ways, be broken down by the generation in which they were born.

Traditionalists, born pre-1945

Motivated by:


-Public recognition

-Desire to lead

-Organizational loyalty




Coined the phrase “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”

The litmus test for a Traditionalist’s job satisfaction is hard work and a job well done.

This group is not clueless about technology; the fastest growing groups of Internet users are adults over age 55.


Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964

Most educated generation ever. Ignited “Make a Difference” movement, NGOs, etc.

Motivated by:

Having more money than their parents had.

-Public recognition

-Desire for subordinates

-Loyalty to self


-Peer recognition



Generation X, born 1965-1981

Skeptical. First to question; “That’s the way we do it” mentality.

Affected by tight job market in early 90s, (which loosened up in the late 90s), recession in early 2000, dot-com bust, work/life balance, suburbs doubled in size, had working mothers.

Motivated by:

-Do well by doing good

-Meeting organizational goals

-Recognition from boss


-Time off

-Meeting own goals

-Skills training



Generation Y, born 1980-2000

Divorced parents peaked in 198 which coincidentally led to more focus on kids. More are questioning, “the way we do it.”Are expected to exceed 80 million. Fastest growing segment of workers today.

Motivated by:


-Making a difference (most will choose meaning over pay)


-Why they contribute



Tying all together to achieve maximum benefits for all.

·  Invest in the right people and perform due diligence through behavior-based testing and competency screening. In reference to Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great,”  have “the right person, in the right seat, on the right bus.” References are there for a reason,;ask for them and follow up.

·  Conversely, don’t neglect to hire people with the innate talent, ability, and smarts to work in almost any position even if you don’t currently have the “best” match available. These multitaskers make great managers later.

·  Offer an attractive, specifically targeted, competitive benefits package with components such as health insurance, tuition reimbursement and flexible hours. Better benefits pave the way for reduced employee turnover.

·  Provide opportunities for people to share their knowledge via training sessions, presentations, mentoring others and team assignments. Employees like to share what they know, and the act of teaching others reinforces the employee’s own learning.

·  Respect employees at all times. Listen to them, use their ideas, and never ridicule or shame them. Your actions and words should communicate that you value them They are on the front lines everyday, and competitive intelligence starts right there.

·  Offer regularly scheduled performance feedback (and stick to it) and praise good efforts and results to reduce employee turnover. Rescheduling or putting off these meetingscan have a negative ripple effect faster than most anything.

·  People want to enjoy their work.. Engage and employ the special talents of each individual. One roaster I work with recently realized they have an amazing in-house graphic designer, who was previously hidden by their workload as a roaster.

·  Enable employees to balance work and life. Allow flexible starting times, core business hours and flexible ending times.

·  Involve employees in decisions that affect their jobs and the overall direction of the company whenever possible.  No one likes surprises unless it’s their birthday. Communicate any major changes ahead of time. Inform your staff one on one to keep the message clearand to assure buy in.

·  Recognize excellent performance and achievements such as passing each level of your in-house certification process. (Yes, in-house certification,is the six sigma of your organization.)

·  Recognize and celebrate success. Mark the achievement of important goals,even simple percentage increases in sales over prior year, or average sale goals, whole-bean sales, etc.

·  Nurture and celebrate organization traditions. A good friend and colleague  has forged an amazing culture in his company by encouraging after-hours staff activities such as dodgeball tournaments, barbecues, costume partys, etc. This instills a more cohesive synergy amongst staff, in addition to a fraternal culture that makes each and every member feel like they belong to something bigger than their paycheck.


Only recently did I hear the SCAA refer to specialty coffee as  an affordable luxury. Ironically, as an industry we are confronted with little time to get comfortable with that title as we are now faced with the opportunity to weave specialty coffee into the fabric of lifestyles around the world.

Infinite possibilities for trends exist in the our industry: the quest for better coffee, improved brewing options, championship barista training, and more. The one variable that remains a staple and brings the most value to your culture is your people. Without the right group of well-informed, educated, engaged people, there is no culture.

Simply said: “No culture=no glue.” The good ones will come and go faster than you can keep up.  Your labor percentage is affected by turnover—and even worse, your customers see turnover as a negative..You will not be able to lead your staff as you have to work on the frontlines. Eventually turnover will catch up with you, retarding your growth , choking out your fiscal health. You will know this has happened when you see your competition pass you by, loaded with all of your former staff.  Evaluate your operation if necessary, take action disassemble from within, re-prioritize and reinvest in the glue that holds the culture together. And build it to last

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