I had the opportunity to work at a new restaurant chain for several years in high school and part of college. I don’t think there was a single job in that restaurant that I didn’t learn during my time there. I worked as a server, cashier, runner, cook, dishwasher, supervisor, and more. (I could write an entire blog post about the “more” that would probably be pretty entertaining, but that will have to wait.)
Suffice it to say, the longer I worked there the more I learned.
It’s not uncommon for me to think back on things and remember them for being greater than they were. But I swear, that restaurant was a big part of my life and I’ll never forget the memories and friendships I forged.
But here’s the thing.
Several of the restaurant locations that were booming when I was in high school have since closed their doors. And looking back, I can honestly say there were things I noticed eroding even as an adolescent. Small decisions that didn’t seem like a big deal back then...
When we first opened, we made all our mashed potatoes fresh in the store; but this practice stopped and was replaced by pre-made potatoes that were shipped to the store in plastic bags.
The first couple years we were open there was a strict rule against serving leftover food the following day; but this stance gradually loosened so we could meet food-cost goals.
And we used to stay an hour or two after close to clean the floors, ovens, and overhead exhaust systems until they sparkled; but this practice gradually eroded and was replaced by more efficient measures.
I don’t think this erosion of the culture was 100% bad. After all, there are pros and cons to most decisions. I also can’t blame the boogie man or “other people” for the corners we all learned to cut. To be clear, we prided ourselves in the speed in which we were able to clean and close the place down. It cut the cost of labor and became the expectation from management.
So what does all of this mean? Well, it means I can probably still carve a rotisserie-cooked chicken faster than 95% of the planet.
But it also points to the fact that culture can erode and goals can change. As school leaders, we’re trusted to discern between the things that probably need to be changed, and the things that keep the OPEN sign on. It’s critical to understand the difference.
Some things need to be changed, cut, or reinvented. However, there will always be some things we should always cling to. Regardless of whether we get these decisions right, they will create culture.
It’s an awesome responsibility, really. And it is drastically enhanced by collaboration, open dialogue, and shared leadership. Growing and shaping culture is a series of small decisions.
And each decision matters.
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