Why Your Employee Promotion Failed and How to Fix It

17th February 2014
POS and printer being used by staff

Every restaurant owner and manager has tried to run at least one employee promotion that did not meet expectations or failed completely. It’s frustrating, not only because you spent time building and promoting it; but also because improving employee performance is such a critical task in improving your business’ operations.

I worked about a decade in restaurants and bars and another seven years at a large cinema chain. Over those years, I saw dozens of employee promotions designed to increase sales of a Limited Time Offer (LTO). Sometimes it was for a special meal, sometimes a gift card promotion for the holidays and sometimes around a particular goal (increasing beverage upsizes for example). The ones that failed generally did so in one of two ways: employees found the promotion too complicated to understand or they felt they could not win and lost interest.

Why Promotions Fail

  • Too complicated. Staff don’t understand what’s in it for them and how they are rewarded.
  • Poorly rolled out. Often all the hard work and explanation is used to “sell” the idea to management and full time employees. As a result, staff gets short-changed on the explanation and either do not understand it or, in the case of some part time employees, are not aware of it at all.
  • Too hard to win. If, after a few days, staff feel they can no longer win, they become disenchanted and disregard it. In some cases, results are worse that no promotion.
  • No engagement. If staff are not updated regularly on their progress (and the progress of others) they quickly lose interest.

How to Make Promotions that are Winners

The key to creating winning promotions is to build them around S.M.A.R.T. goals. Structure the promotion around a goal that is:

  • Specific: Target a specific item for improvement. Often this will be the number of units of an LTO sold
  • Measurable: Your goal should be easy to measure. In the case of a LTO, your POS should make it very easy to measure how many are sold, but you also need to display to employees the results on a regular (daily or even better in real-time) basis.
  • Assignable: Make it clear who is responsible and how they will be judged – individually or as a team.
  • Realistic: Employees have to feel that they can reach the goal that has been set.
  • Time-related: Set expectations of when the promotion will begin and end.

A Promotion that is Likely to Succeed

Here is an example of a multi-store promotion that is likely to succeed.

  • We are running a new LTO that has tear-away prizing decals on large-sized fry sleeves and beverage cups
  • This LTO will be available for four weeks
  • Stores will be measured on who has the greatest lift in % of their combos upsized (both fries and beverage)
  • There will be weekly prizes for the best performers over the entire 4 week run
    • Each week, the store with the greatest lift will receive a $10 movie theater gift card for every employee who worked a shift
    • At the end of the promotion, the store with the greatest lift will receive $500 for their staff to spend as they please, on a group event
  • Standings will be displayed electronically in real-time (more on how LiveScore does that here)

A few things to note: First, the promotion is very specific, in terms of the time period, what the measure of success is and what the rewards are. There are a few other important items though:

  1. There are weekly and monthly prizes. So a store that is behind the pack in week 1 will be less likely to quit (because they know they could keep winning in future weeks)
  2. Prizing is based on the success of a store, not an individual employee. While employee-centric promotions can work, we’ve seen, over time, examples of where it also can cause undesired behavior.
  3. The prizing is something that provides a lot of choice. Almost everyone enjoys movies, so the prize can be used by most staff. Specific prizes are often less desirable, for example, promotional items of clothing that are a specific size.

Have an example of an employee promotion that was successful for your business? Let us know in the comments section below.

Chief Operating Officer at LIVELENZ. Greg began working part-time in restaurants when he was 15 and continued in the industry for a decade. He then began working for technology companies developing a passion for improving operational efficiencies at fast-growing organizations.

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