“Mediocrity is always in a rush, but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration. For success is nothing more than doing well what anyone can do badly.” 
– Amelia E. Barr, 19th century novelist

What chain restaurants execute daily is just this side of miraculous when you think about it. It’s an enormously complex feat to sell cheeseburgers, pizzas, tacos, burritos, chicken dishes or fish sandwiches with a uniform shape, weight, flavor, temperature, ingredient consistency and safety to tens of millions of different diners with clear-cut expectations, every single day. The training, technology, supply chain and expertise required to accomplish this magic act day in and day out is the cumulative result of decades of systems development, customer research, political maneuvering, realty prowess, supplier management, process refining and brand cultivation.

Yet layered atop this construct of uniformity and organization is the constant need to change. The fact is, you can’t build new business or add more value by simply performing to old standards when new standards are necessary. This lapse in focus can cause either slight or catastrophic change in a chain’s growth cycle or even chances of survival. Look at how many emerging foodservice concepts grew by capitalizing on once-dominant brands’ failure to change.

Previous achievement is no guarantee of future success. To stay ahead you must keep ahead. So this month, let’s compare and contrast old standards to new standards and help you assess if you’re focused on the future or mired in the past.

Old standard:Best practices in our company.”
New standard: “Best practices across the industry.” Competition is no longer confined within segments. Quick-service, fast-casual and full-service operations all compete for the same dining dollar. To stay ahead of the curve, benchmark outstanding behavior across all foodservice brands and segments, not just your own.

Old standard:Service.”
New standard: “Speed, accuracy, cleanliness, no complaints and hospitality.” You can’t value service in general; it has to be service in specific. Foodservice teams must put premiums on getting the order right and respecting customers’ time constraints, and know how to differentiate between service, which fulfills a need, and hospitality, which fulfills people. So be nice to the people with the money, and know that today’s diners define good service as “Never having to ask for anything.” Customers want easy.

Old standard:Marketing.”
New standard: “Social media, multimedia, connecting to the community, one-to-one communication.” Foodservice marketing is tougher than a $2 steak and revolves around two words: local and niche. Everything is marketing; it’s who you are, not merely what you do. It matters who you partner with environmentally and socially, and it matters who you hire. Marketing is a philosophy, not a department.

Old standard:Adequate staffing.”
New standard: “Low-drama, high-value players.” Much of your company’s value lies between the ears of your team members. Find, recruit and develop employees with a penchant for service and an aversion to conflict creation. Human resources guru Robert Half said it best: “Hire cheerleaders and teach them to be team members.” To find better people, hone your recruiting process. Ask yourself, “How well do I want this job done?” as opposed to, “What position do I have open?”

Old standard:Training.”
New standard: “Development.” Put a premium on choosing the right people first — those who share your company’s values. Then teach your people how to think and not merely what to do. A-players rarely seek work, B-, C- and D-players do. You have to have a program that successfully develops people one level above where you’re currently hiring. Every day, teach someone on your team something new.

Old standard:Feedback.”
New standard: “Feedforward.” A performance review is history — that is, the behavior that produced it occurred in the past and cannot be managed, shaped or influenced. Author Marshall Goldsmith coined the term Feedforward. Feedforward is focused on what you will commit to do in the future. At every formal review, encourage managers to detail and commit to specific future behavior that will help them attain their annual or quarterly goals.

Old standard:Turnover.”
New standard: “Tenure.” Measuring voluntary and involuntary team member turnover is a key foodservice metric, but it reveals only how many associates left, not who left or why. Examine, measure and track how long hourly associates stay in each position before they leave by chance or by choice. If you know that a typical cook’s tenure is 38 months, for example, you can determine factors that cause it, and also introduce additional training, incentives or raises at 34 and 36 months to extend that tenure to 44 months or more.

Old standard: “Urgent.”
New standard: “Important.” Most foodservice managers and multiunit leaders operate in a maelstrom of urgency every day, creating a Sisyphus-like sense of incessant activity that doesn’t lead to clear results. If everything is urgent, then what’s important? Clearly define for your leadership teams and associates what the top three goals are for the year and what they need to do every single day, both collectively and individually, to achieve those goals.

Here’s the thing: If you operate only according to old standards, you’ll always be reacting instead of anticipating. That means you’ll never gain traction; you’ll just stabilize, not grow. A successful business future can’t be predicated on everything staying the same. Our customers won’t stand for that. So either magnify your skills or modify your dreams.

How are standards evolving at your restaurant? Join the conversation in the comments below.