“When the rate of change inside the company is exceeded by the rate of change outside the company, the end is near.” — Jack Welch, former chairman and chief executive, General Electric

I recently presented a custom leadership workshop to a growing regional pizza chain that does the majority of its business via delivery and carryout, with most orders originating on the phone. After my presentation, one of the chain’s franchise business consultants asked: “What do you recommend to help develop basic telephone answering skills for our 17- and 18-year-old team members?”

His concern was based on the social anomaly that Gen Z team members have spent more time texting on phones than talking on them. The youngest team members, he said, don’t bring the same basic phone skills into the job that previous generations did, and managers need to teach basic phone etiquette to facilitate better service and higher sales. The rise of online ordering will eventually replace the need for telephone order-taking entirely, but in the meantime the situation represents a serious challenge for many operators.

Similarly, full-service restaurant operators also blame smartphone technology for a rising disconnect between younger servers and bartenders and the diverse customers they serve and sell to. The belief is that the basic communication skills critical to successful tableside service are honed through conversation and personal interaction — and numbed by texting. Since Gen Z does less of the former and lots of the latter, shift managers report that younger servers seem to struggle establishing rapport with diners. This may just be generational bias from older leaders, but the inability of younger servers to successfully connect with guests comes up with such frequency, that it can safely be called a legitimate and widespread concern.

If such rudimentary skills as telephone etiquette and basic communication are truly missing among much of the next generation, it only reinforces the endemic need for foodservice leaders to constantly identify training and talent gaps and evaluate, refresh and reinvigorate their training focus.  As your team members change and evolve, what you teach them must also change and evolve. After all, you can’t have payphone skills in a smartphone world.

Change itself isn’t new; what’s new in business today is the speed and frequency of change. Show your foodservice leaders how to stay ahead of change and acclimate their teams to change. As hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said: “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

The best leaders help their teams accept change by communicating it in a way that maximizes understanding and minimizes uncertainty. People are not afraid of “change.” What they really fear is the unknown and the unfamiliar. Research shows that employees will more readily accept change when it’s convincingly presented to them as being beneficial, or when the perceived pain or consequences of staying the same outweighs the perceived pain of changing.

So when you identify your team’s skill gaps and introduce new policies, procedures or systems, consider the following strategies:

How have you helped your employees embrace change? Join the conversation in the comments below.

• First, frame the change relative to how it benefits the customer. If it’s good for the people who sign our paychecks, it’s good for everyone in the company.

• Second, frame the change relative to how it benefits the employee. Lay out the reasons for the change in clear and simple language and tune into your team’s favorite radio station: WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?). Present your case by keeping the acronym KFD in mind. What do I want them to Know? How do I want them to Feel about the information? What do I want them to Do?

• Third, frame the change relative to how it benefits the company.  Clearly summarize and demonstrate the win-win-win for the customer, crew, and company. Minimize the fear of change by answering these 10 unspoken questions your teams will have:

o Where are we now as a business?
o Where are we going?
o How are we going to get there?
o Why are we making this change?
o Why are we going to do it that way?
o When and how will we measure incremental success of the change?
o What do you need me to do?
o What’s in it for me if I do?
o What happens if we don’t achieve the goals?
o How will we know when we get there?

• Finally, clarify and verify. Be certain everyone understands and would be able to clearly explain the change to another team member. Respect the Two Reason Rule: If you can’t give the team at least two good reasons why you’re doing something different — or why you do things a certain way now — then stop doing it.

Change is our only constant — it comes at the foodservice industry in big and small ways every day through technology, trends and people. Effective training programs must adapt. Consider all the jobs and industries that technologies and cultural shifts have transformed (or replaced) in the last decade: banking, newspapers, CDs, payphones, travel agencies, supermarket checkout lanes, DVDs. Now think of all that could change in the next decade. What was isn’t any more. What is won’t be for long.