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The Dalai Lama isn't a management guru, but he turned around Nick Sarillo's leadership at a time when performance was flagging at the two suburban Chicago pizza restaurants he ran. Attending a 2007 speech by the Tibetan leader, Mr. Sarillo realized that while he himself operated from trust and hope, the Dalai Lama was extolling tough love – the idea that sometimes a little spank on the butt is effective.

"Wow, I thought, that's the answer!" Mr. Sarillo writes in his book A Slice of the Pie. "I needed a project leadership that came out of both love and fear. Fear yields management actions around command and control; love yields management actions around trust and hope. I needed something in the middle; I needed to trust and track." Here's a look at how his restaurants are managed:

The art of tracking

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If tracking is to work, he argues that you must go beyond superficial behaviours and things people say, and instead monitor the underlying subtleties of action and psychology. His leadership team shows restaurant managers how to track the energy levels of their employees. They tell managers to determine whether a host is talking in clipped sentences or a vibrant, flowing manner. Managers are also trained to check if servers are smiling or making eye contact out of excitement or happiness.

Moments of magic

Under the restaurant chain's "moments of magic" credo, team members are trained to perform certain behaviours, such as greeting everyone they see within five steps of themselves; greeting everyone entering and leaving the restaurant; or answering the phone within three rings. The managers can then check on how a team member is executing those behaviours, as a starting point to assessing performance.

Feedback loop

At the end of each training shift, managers have a 10-minute conversation with the employee – known as the "feedback loop" – in which they analyze a positive behaviour together. The team member is asked to name one thing he or she did well; the manager agrees, and builds on it. Then it's the manager's turn to name another positive action. "As a result of this conversation with a manager the team member comes away feeling validated and more conscious of something that quite often they didn't even know they were doing well," Mr. Sarillo writes.

There are also two other, more immediate forms of feedback. Performance feedback, which takes about 10 to 20 seconds, is given at any time by a manager at the moment when a behaviour has occurred. And direct feedback is just a quick phrase or sentence, such "great smile," again given in the moment.

Turn mistakes into learning opportunities

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The managers try to reframe mistakes or deficiencies in a positive way, to make them learning opportunities for staff. The feedback loop includes a question about one thing employees feel they can do to enhance their performance, and the manager also offers one suggestion. They deliberately use the word "enhance" rather than "do better," to avoid implying that the employee did something wrong.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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