Cafe-style Management

Coffee cup


I guess like me you have a favorite coffee bar, and it was in my favorite coffee bar when I was whiling away a few minutes and observing the people around me that I realised that management and leadership is very similar to a cafe.

I saw that the people serving were faced with ever varying situations to which they had to react – sometimes a long queue sometimes a short queue for their attention; sometimes a simple drink sometimes a complex drink to prepare; sometimes ordering for themselves as individuals and sometimes ordering on behalf of a group; sometimes customers being easily pleased and sometimes facing a challenging situation requiring significant attention to customers very specific requirements; and all of this supported by technology (till and coffee machine) with its variable foibles.

Surely all of this is exactly what happens in organisations. The role of a leader and manager is rarely simple and rarely routine – if it could be more routine it would make life so much simpler, but on the other hand if it was that routine why would you need a leader or manager in the first place?

So why does this matter?

I think the first and most important point is to do with the mindset of a leader and manager. If a leader or manager believes that everything should be planned and routine and operate exactly as it should, and they arrange their thinking and activities on this basis, then there’s a high likelihood that they will become stressed, overworked, or at least dissatisfied with constant flux of challenges and requirements. On the other hand, if a leader or manager believes that everything can be expected to be fluid and changeable, and they organise their activities and thinking to be flexible and responsive, then they stand a much better chance of handling whatever arises.

Working in this flexible and responsive way leaders and managers can then position themselves to anticipate a range of aspects of their work and the potential influences on it. There are many theories, models and concepts highlighting potential influences on organisations and their activities. A favourite of mine is STEEPLE, which grows from the historic idea of PEST, STEP, PESTLE analysis. Indeed, the idea can be taken even further with the so-called SPECTACLES analysis.

  • Social – who are the people we are dealing with at the moment? What are they likely to need? What are the expectations of our staff and their needs?
  • Political – what’s happening externally in the political arena which might have an impact on activities? What is happening in regard to internal politics that might affect what we are doing?
  • Economic – where do we stand in the current economic turmoil? How are we handling our pricing policy? How are we managing our budget, expenditure and cash flow?
  • Cultural – what is the cultural mix of our staff, customers and suppliers? How effective are we managing diversity, equality and fairness? To what extent do we provide facilities for those with particular needs, or specific religious requirements?
  • Technological – What are we using at present? How well does this meet our needs? What issuers with technology do we need to be addressing? What developments are coming in technology that might affect us?
  • Aesthetic – How do our products or services appeal to those who use them? How appealing are they? How attractive are our plans and our current business propositions to new and existing customers, clients and providers?
  • Customers – Who are our current customers (external and internal)? What do they want and need from us? What do we currently provide for them? To what extent does what we provide exceed, meet or fail to address what they want and need? To what extent do we need to attract new customers and clients? What sort of people or businesses are they?
  • Legal – what are the rules and regulations that apply to our activities (internal policies and external legislation)? To what extent are they stable or changing? Do we fully comply or are there some areas where we should pay greater attention? What new areas for rules regulations or policies should we be considering?
  • Environmental – How “green” are our current activities? How can we reduce waste and be more environmentally aware in our activities?
  • Sectoral – What are the latest developments in our subject specialist area? To what extent should we be modifying our activities to adopt the new developments? Which areas could we innovate in our sector to give us increased market advantage, enhanced environmental activities, greater customer focus, or compliance with legal requirements?

So, an open-minded flexible and responsive leader or manager will put on their SPECTACLES.

People and flexibility

One of the other things I noticed in my favourite café, is the way in which customers feel free to move the tables and chairs to meet their requirements, as they sit individually or in different group sizes, or to sit closer or futher away from the heater. This is also true in business – customers and clients, whether they are internal customers or external customers, will often ‘move the goalposts’ so that what has been provided in the past is not necessarily how they want things configured now, and again likely to be different in the future.

We should also remember that a café is a People business with customers and staff. If the people are not treated well, then not only would there not be any customers, the staff would soon become dissatisfied and probably move on too. True also for leaders and managers? Of course it is: all organisations rely on their people, so the staff and the customers – whether they are internal or external, need to be treated well, and as problems soon arise.

A people focus, with flexibility, adaptability and responsiveness is the key to modern business success, just as it is for being a first-rate Barista serving the many and varied needs of a whole range of customers, but who mostly have one thing in common – the expectation of significant speedy service. This is the final point here, modern life with all the communication aids and technological support creates a context where everything is immediate. Increasingly people now expect a very quick response to a communication, or fast turnaround from enquiry to contract to service or product provision. Dinosaur organisations or departments beware – survival of the fittest is these days more like survival of the quickest!

…. and yes, before you ask, my favorite café is reliable, flexible, fast and activity seeks to learn the range of my needs, so they can be ready to serve me when I’m next in the queue, which itself is never very long due to their efficient processes.

When you are next thinking about how best to lead or manage your team, department or organisation, perhaps you can learn important lessons from observing the good (and weaker) practice in your favorite café.  We all know what we like, so clean your SPECTACLES frequently to make sure you can see clearly where you currently are, where you are going, and what lies ahead that might catch you out.  If while you are reading this you are wondering how to develop your skills for the future, do get in touch – perhaps we can meet for coffee?

Notes to editors:

ATi provide bespoke developmental and qualification programmes through both face-to-face and supported blended learning, including topics of organisational change, talent and performance management and resource planning for future impact.

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Professor Ian Favell
Ian is a Visiting Professor at Middlesex University and has been Chief External Verifier for CIPD for almost 20 years. As Principal Consultant for Assessor Training Ltd Ian is particularly interested in quality assurance, assessment and verification, training, learning and development, and the development and use of competencies and competency frameworks.
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