Developing Great Employees - It Takes More Than a Mission Statement

by Tom Shay

We recently spent a week in San Antonio and, at one point, decided to take a break from the delicious Mexican food by visiting a fast food restaurant – Whataburger.

We walked into the downtown Whataburger and after placing our order we sat down and were watching the people both inside and outside the business.

A couple of folks were having a fun time enjoying their food as they were taking pictures of each other with their mouth’s wide open as they were about to take a bite of their hamburger. One of the wait staff took note and brought the customers one of the paper hats that the staff wear. More pictures ensued and the customers asked the employee to join in the photo. Before you knew it, there were five employees having a group picture taken with the customers.

Clearly everyone was enjoying themselves.

One of the staff, Anthony, walked by our table and we commented to him how the staff all seemed to be enjoying themselves. In addition to ageing with our assessment, Anthony began asking questions about our visit to San Antonio and how we were enjoying our time in the city. He asked where we lived and he volunteered the location of a Whataburger near our home.

He quickly volunteered that he has been in the food service industry for twenty years and while Whataburger was not the only place he had worked, he did enjoy it. Anthony was a conversant and engaging person . . . someone that you could sit and visit with for quite a while.
He told us the story of the day the grandson of Harmon Dobson, founder of Whataburger, came into the business and sat at a corner table, which Anthony pointed out to us.  



Just as we had noticed, Dobson’s grandson noticed Anthony’s interpersonal skills. Anthony said he was thrilled when the grandson of the founder said he was pleased with the work he was doing for Whataburger and gave him a $15 gift card as a sign of his appreciation.

If you read a little history of Whataburger, you’ll can see that Anthony is not a rare find.  The company has a biennial Family Convention with the highlight of the event being the finals of the WhataGames.

The WhataGames are a six-month competition involving all employees in a demonstration of their knowledge of the company history and a commitment to the company’s stated valued.

As we experienced with the employees, the food and the atmosphere of this business, it is more than just a mission statement or stating that the employees are empowered

We saw how a small recognition, the $15 gift card, carries the story forward.

We did not ask, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Anthony carries that $15 gift card in his pocket as a reminder that the business employing him appreciates his daily efforts.


Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner, author, columnist, coach and speaker who has authored several training manuals for retailers that can be found in the Resources section of the NAMTA website – namta.org. His knowledge of small business marketing, business strategy, staffing, and financial management have provided small business owners with the help necessary to increase their profits plus build their business for the future. You can learn more here - www.profitsplus.org