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  • Writer's pictureJohannes Mutzke

In the New Year, Apply these 3 “Waffle House Principles” to Your Constraints!

A while ago I connected with a close relative of the CEO of Waffle House and also interacted with one of their store managers. I was familiar with their restaurants, but through these discussions really came to appreciate the company and became fascinated with its culture. One noteworthy aspect of their culture is their perspective on “constraints,” and how they are applied to employee relations.

Many employees come to Waffle House from challenging backgrounds–limited resources, difficult social circumstances, transitional phases of career, lack of access to transportation, etc. Rather than trying to change these realities, or rejecting them, the company has accepted and embraced these "constraints" as a means to focus and design for the actual needs of the employees.

This comes to life in many creative ways—such as managers prepared to “jump-in” in case of absences, teaching classes on budget-planning based on their income, providing transportation for employees (e.g. bikes for those who live close by and may not have a driver’s license, or picking up employees during inclement weather, etc.).

In my practice of coaching leaders I often find a lopsided amount of management's energy spent doing exactly the opposite–trying to avoid or even fight constraints. While “constraint-busting” definitely has a place as management's responsibility, what would it look like to identify those constraints we can’t change? And, not only accept them, but use them as an advantage?

Here are a few principles I propose:

  1. Identify them: What are things you perceive as “limitations”? Perhaps chafe under? Inherently hard-wired in your reality (location, job, finances, customers, employees)?

  2. Mentally embrace them: Instead of fighting them, welcome them. This change of mindset from “rejection” to “acceptance” is a necessary and vital turning point. It changes your perspective from negativity to positivity and opens up more possibilities. Could you imagine thinking of constraints as a “pleasure” or a way to focus your efforts?

  3. Get creative: How might you turn these constraints into an advantage? Rather than despite them…but because of them? Chances are that many of your peers or competitors face similar challenges and have written them off, so an opportunity for competitive-advantage may be in plain view, though invisible to others. Remember, "necessity is the mother of invention”!

As you turn the page on 2021, take a step back and look at the constraints you consider fixed. Rather than resenting or ignoring them, begin thinking about how they can go from a “threat or fear” to a “reason to thrive” in the new year!


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