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Employee Engagement, Athletic Attitude, and Breakfast Sandwiches

Employee Engagement, Athletic Attitude, and Breakfast Sandwiches

by Frank Roche on August 28, 2007

in Engagagement

“I gotcha.”

Those words started my day today. When I go to Cosi, which is a premium convenience restaurant, I’m happy.

“I gotcha” is what the man who makes the breakfast sandwiches says when I walk in. I’ve been going there for a while, and he remembers that I like — egg and swiss on a toasted sesame seed bagel. I know that might not seem like a lot, but this is at a restaurant in a major city with hundreds — if not thousands — of people streaming through daily. I’m just one of the huddled masses. But not there. I feel welcome.

I’m sure that guy doesn’t get paid any more money for saying “I gotcha” than if he just ignored me for five minutes like what happens at a lot of big city convenience restaurants. (That includes Starbucks, by the way, which used to be more personal, but is now more about running people through the line.) So what makes him say, “I gotcha”?


Engagement. (Yes, I think that word is stupid, but it’s shorthand and you all know what I’m talking about.) They guy cares about his job. My guess is that he’s earning an hourly wage, which in this service economy era with horrible customer service, it’s a rarity. But not at my Cosi. Several people there pay attention. I drink decaffeinated coffee — a little room for cream, please — and I get it every time. Same with the egg bagel. Every time.

I won’t go anywhere else.

What would it take to get employee engagement like that at your shop? Here’s my take: We hire too much based on resume and academic credentials. But I tell you, as a small business owner, I’d rather have one person who cares than 10 people who have great paperwork and an I-don’t-care attitude.

Would you ever take a chance on a guy who says “I gotcha” to do a professional job? I know that’s tough, but would you? Would you ever consider that you can teach technical skills, but you can never teach desire? In sports it’s a known issue: Get good athletes with a great work ethic and you can teach them the subtle skills. Get a great athlete with a bad attitude and what do you end up with? Nothing but problems.

I don’t think you can “make” lackadaisical employees be more engaged. Sure, you can do things to get people to be more motivated to work for the organization. You can set up teams and get people to cooperate. But it’s a bit hollow to take bad and disaffected talent and think that you can make them “engaged.” Give me a team full of “I gotcha” people and I’ll make a winner.


Think about the best team you were ever on. What was it that made it that way? Was it because you got paid the most? Was it because you had the resources? Was it about how the team was structured? Or was it because you worked among a group of people who had desire and talent? People who you could count on every morning to say, “I gotcha.”

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