What Makes a Great Employee?

I’m genuinely curious about this one, since I’ve seen a lot of discrepancies over the years between what kind of person people think they want to hire, versus the type that actually work out.

A great employee doesn’t need to be a genius or work like a slave, but they should be proud of where they work and like what they do. I think this is partly a function of the shop, no clown suit uniforms or canned phone scripts go a long way here, but is also a valuable quality in an employee. These are the types of people that are often more motivated by personal relationships and respect than by raw money, and won’t work at a bad shop even if the money is good. Sadly I’m unaware of any easy way of identifying these people other than working with them, but they should be treated like gold once identified.

In the restaurant industry, I happen to think that the #1 criteria should be affability, people can be trained to do the work, but it’s hard to train someone out of being a jerk. Too often I see someone get hired on their resume alone and then turn out to be a good worker but an impossible co-worker. As good as these people’s work may be, they are not good employees and need to go. I happen to feel that a team of mediocre workers that like each other will outperform a team of experts that are at each others throats all the time, and that the weakest link in a restaurant often isn’t the slowest worker but the one that everyone loathes. Jerks should not be tolerated, especially in management.

Intelligence is tricky, a smart employee can be far worse than a dumb one if handled incorrectly. In my experience, if you are going to hire smart employees, you’d best be prepared to listen to them, or trouble will inevitably result. Having been that smart employee for most of my career, I can say that if an employer listens to me, I’m more than happy to point out ways to save money or maintenance things that are about to become an issue, where an employer that ignores me gets to find out for himself. As far as I know, a man that I worked for in Seattle is still paying to have his cooking oil hauled away every week, when there are people right down the street who would pay him good money for it for their biodiesel refinery. His loss…

In short, my feeling is that affability is the most important thing a potential employee brings to the table, work ethic and pride are a shared issue between the shop and the worker, and that smart people are great if you are prepared to take advantage of them, but a liability if marginalized. I’m going to follow this up with what I think makes a great workplace, but first I’m curious about what other people think.

I just hired an employee with AD/HD and am considering that a requirement in all future hires. She gets as much done as two normal employees.

That’s funny, Microsoft has long been rumored to specifically look for people with the mild form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome, because they tend to be socially awkward and entirely focused on their current task. Just the kind of people that can program 100+ hours a week and like it, what more could they ask for?

I’m kind of curious about ADHD people as employees, my fairly successful uncle has it and it makes him very difficult to talk to, his attention literally wanders while you’re speaking to him, and if you didn’t know better you’d think he was ignoring you. He’s a trust officer and it doesn’t seem to affect him professionally, but I don’t think his job requires him to maintain focus for long periods. Perhaps you could get your ADHD worker to share her Ritalin with the other employees, it’s basically speed so you’d have a whole shop full of “hyper-workers”…

My favorite, and best type of employees are the ones with a strong sense of pride, and a feeling of ownership in the company. You can’t teach someone to be proud of their work, and there is nothing better than that feeling of being a team working towards a common goal, rather than a “us versus them” mentality. Having common sense and the ability to work well with others doesn’t hurt either.

Indeed, i’m working on promoting one of my best AM employees to an apprentice position. My store is not quite ready for myself as GM and TWO assistant managers so we will add one of our shining stars as an apprentice / supervisor.

My question is whether that pride and feeling ownership is an ingrained thing the employee brings with them, or is something that is created by working for a great shop. I lean towards the later, I find that it’s much easier to take pride in my work and really feel like I’m a valuable part of a team if I’m treated like I’m valuable. I actually think nearly anyone can in fact be taught these things, it’s just a matter of creating the right environment. Going back to my original post, I think that a laid back worker that get’s along well with everyone, treated as if they are valuable and shown appreciation for good work, will inevitably naturally develop the pride and buy in that are so desirable, it’s only when people are treated as expendable cogs in the wheel that they’ll act like them.

I don’t believe anything can be “created” with employees. They are either great employees/people/workers or they aren’t. I’ve had several people over the years that I thought I could mold into great employees or managers - and I was wrong every time. They either walk through the door with it, or they don’t.

Where the company’s culture comes into play is whether or not they’ll be able to attract or keep the great employees.

I have to agree 100%.

They either have it ingrained in them (normally from a strog family trait). Some do rise to the levels but most remain good workers. A few do rise above the norm but can slip back just as easily. The great ones just keep going and going and going. Little encouragement is required and little leadership required as they tend to be self motivated and self starters, and usually have that sense of urgency in everything they do.

My best worker is a driver who is a trainee teacher (in his last year at uni) who has clawed his way up from being illitterate and bullied at 12 to get himself into uni. He was unco at sport but now excels in running and is studying sports science to be a sports teacher. He was AHAD and still some shows signs of this (but now unmedicated) and cannot stay still so he is always on the go looking for something to do. In appreciation for what he does and the manner in he takes on his duties I pay him a premium to the other drivers and “tiltled” him head driver. He is extremely proud of this and takes on training new drivers (they also do prep for me) and directs them when they are on shift with him.

I would gladly wear the increased wages cost to have a team of this guy.


A great employee is one that is not afraid to make mistakes and not too full of phoney self esteem to learn from mistakes. I’ve hired people that are afraid to attempt anything for fear of screwing up. I try to explain I don’t mind if you make an honest mistake as long as you are willing to learn from it. I do mind when you make the same mistake and get corrected 5 times in a week. The phrase “my bad” is way overused by the younger generation. Instead of “My Bad” I want to hear “What did I do wrong and how should I fix it”. Real self esteem comes from making actual accomplishments rather than false praise.
The team mentality and ownership of the job as mentioned before are also very important, and I have to agree for the most part with Piper, if a person you hire does not appear to have these qualities as they learn the job, they will probably never have them. It has to do with their upbringing, school experience and previous employment. Maybe in a different environment they could stay around longer, but a person that is not willing to supprt the team will not last long in our store.

We tend to hire honor roll students and college kids for the kitchen with a couple of adults to maintain continuity and it seems to work well except for the turnover when they go away to school. military or move on to more substantial jobs.


“Hire for attitude, train for skill.”

In the years that I’ve worked in two different pizza shops, I’ve seen every kind of employee. The best kind are the ones that are smart and honest, but still know their place. I’ve seen people that can make and cook and deliver and do all the work, but they sucked to work with and employ. I’ve seen people that plain stink at everything. But, the best ones I’ve seen do things they’re supposed to because they know they’re supposed to. They don’t have to be told, they just know. They ask questions and listen to the answers. They can be trusted. They take pride in well-made food and good customer service, as well as themselves. And they definitely are not taught how to do those things. Either they have it, or they don’t.


another good quality in an employee is to have enough integrity and class to get another job and leave if and when they are dissatisfied with their current deal rather than being an energy drain on the organization with a negative attitude until the owner/manager fires them. I hate firing people.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m reading this as you wanting people to identify themselves as “dead wood” and fire themselves for the good of the shop, because you’re not comfortable with confronting/firing people…

Quite aside from the basic absurdity of this premise, why would someone just up and quit an otherwise secure job rather than take steps to remedy whatever problems they’re having with it? Any workplace will have a certain amount of grumbling going on, it’s just part of work culture, but some of it may also be feelers from people who are unhappy about something, and are checking to see if it’s just them or if it’s normal for the job. There are people who are just plain negative, but they fall under that category that shouldn’t be kept around even if their work is good, but to expect them to self identify as a drag and quietly go away just isn’t realistic.

I think the intention was at some point, many employees of pizza shops realize that they want a career in something other than pizza making and leave in a timely manner without causing problems first. Kind of like Brett Favre should’ve retired when he said he was retiring, instead of causing all that trouble for Green Bay and then the Jets. A good employee goes out like Reggie Miller did, with class, honor, and at the right time.

I could be totally off on my interpretation, but, that’s how I took it.


I have had great luck with people who have a decent amount of recent experience as a Crew Trainer for McDonalds. I have also had good luck with people who have put a good amount of time in “Back drive thru” for McDonalds.

 Just an interesting thing I have noticed.