A Bold Ambition to Serve
Do you love the people you’ve decided to serve?
It has been my privilege and passion to speak about servant leadership in forums all over the world. My free e-book on Leading With Others In Mind has been downloaded thousands of times around the world.
Not too long ago, I read a compelling new book on the topic, Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others. The author is not just an author, but the CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc., a multibillion-dollar global chain. Prior to Popeyes, she held leadership positions at Yum! Brands, Domino’s Pizza, RJR Nabisco, the Gillette Company, and P&G.
Back to the opening question: Do you love the people you’ve decided to serve?
Cheryl asks that tough question in this book and goes on to explain why the answer is key to delivering superior results.
Fired! How a Humbling Event Changed Everything
Cheryl, your book, Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others, starts out with a humble account of you getting fired. That seems to have been a turning point for you personally and professionally. How did this contribute to your beliefs?
Thankfully there have been several humbling events in my life – events that reminded me that I am not in control, I am not God. I have found the trials in my life, like facing breast cancer or getting fired from KFC, were the events that led me to new insights and personal growth. They have made me a better person and a better leader.
Losing my job made me question my leadership and business capability. This crisis of confidence led me to a ruthless review of my wiring, my strengths, my values and my experiences. In that process, I gained conviction about who I was and importantly, what kind of leader I wanted to be. When I came to the Popeyes opportunity, I was refreshed and ready to lead out of these convictions.
The Benefits of Daring to Serve
Would you share some of the benefits leaders receive if they adopt the Dare to Serve leadership model?
The benefits are many. Leading this way has been the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience of my career. And I think the Leadership Team at Popeyes would say the same thing.
It has been incredibly challenging to transform the culture, the business, and the leaders simultaneously. Chasing the bold goals sets the bar high – which leads us to be more innovative – which leads us go assemble amazing people – which leads us to be tenacious and determined to get to the daring destination. We are better leaders because we are stretching and learning continuously.
The decision to serve our franchise owners well has focused us on a process of building alignment – to define the problem together and to solve together – and has built strong, productive relationships with our most important partners. Sometimes this feels slow or inefficient, but once aligned, it has enabled incredible speed to market.
And finally, the rewarding experience of bringing together a capable team – then nurturing and developing their leadership qualities. This is essential to performance in a fast growing company, but it is also important, purposeful work that can leave a legacy of future leaders.
Set Off to a Daring Destination
What’s a “daring destination” and how do leaders make this a reality?
A daring destination is the place that the leader is taking the organization. It has to be a place that stretches their imagination, but is plausible to achieve. It has to be so clearly described that the people know where to focus their energy. At Popeyes, our bold goals were to increase restaurant sales by 20% and restaurant profits by 40%. This would lead to new restaurant growth with good returns for the owners.
After setting the goals, we created our Roadmap – the four strategic pillars that would focus our work and our energy. We would Build the Brand, Run Great Restaurants, Make Money for the Owners, and Accelerate New Growth. In each of these pillars we had specific initiatives like creating new products, improving speed of service, and saving money in the supply chain. Then we focused the organization on getting these vital few things done.
The daring destination – married with the clarity of the Roadmap – gave the organization focus and allowed our people to do their best work.
Understand Your Purpose: Why Do You Work?
You devote time to purpose, to the “why” behind work. Purpose and meaning seem to be ever more important today, particularly with Millennials. What have you learned about purpose?
About fifteen years ago, I started asking people, “Why do you work?” And I was intrigued by the answers. Most people looked stumped by the question or gave me conventional, uninspired answers like, “I’m working to support my family.” Few answered the question with any passion or conviction. I thought to myself, “Why are these people working their entire lives without knowing why?”
I observed that the people who did know why they worked were incredibly positive and enthusiastic about work. They were highly engaged and committed to the “cause.” I wondered what would happen to workplace performance results if people know their personal purpose.
At Popeyes, we ask our employees to attend a leadership class that begins with developing your personal purpose for work. We ask people to look at their life experiences, their top priority values, and their strengths – and then shape a statement of how they want to contribute to the workplace. We call it Journey to Personal Purpose.
Most people have never done this before – and those that take it seriously find it very transformative. Purpose helps you to explain yourself to your supervisor and team. Purpose helps you bring your best self to work because you know why you came. You can say yes to the right things and no to those that don’t fit your purpose.
Not only does this personal process help the person, it also helps Popeyes. Our employee engagement scores are well above average – and part of that is that our people know why they work here!
Hire For A Servant-Led Culture
What’s your hiring process to find people who will fit your servant-led culture?
Our interview process is a blend of skill questions and culture questions. Culture fit is difficult to pinpoint in an interview process – because it is so easy to say the right things and so hard to do the right things. We often interview people 4 or 5 times to build relationships and depth of insight. We may use assessment tools to understand a bit about their strengths and style. We always talk to references for examples of how they handle themselves at work. But it is an imperfect process. Even those that seem the ideal cultural fit often struggle when they get here. A servant leadership culture is not typical – people don’t have prior experience with it – and as a result, it takes them a while to understand and to adjust their behaviors.
Encourage Personal Accountability
Let’s talk about personal accountability. How do you encourage it in the culture?
One of Popeyes’ principles is Personal Accountability. We call it “doing your piece of the puzzle.” Our business model hinges on accountability. The franchisor creates the brand, the menu, the media, and the operating system. The franchisee builds the restaurants, hires and trains the people and serves the guests. If either one of us does not do our part, the performance of the business suffers. The same is true in the office Everything we do eventually touches a restaurant. If each department “does their own thing,” the restaurant will get a chaotic assortment of initiatives that are impossible to execute. Therefore, every initiative must go through a process that integrates our plans so that the restaurants can do their job well. That requires accountability. We encourage this in two ways: working in cross-functional teams and observing consistent processes that keep each team member or department on track.
What about personal gifts? You use the story of your hairdresser, Chris. How do you help your employees discover gifts? How do you encourage the use of gifts at work?
We believe that every team member has unique talents to offer to Popeyes. We want to understand how to put the team member in a position to do their best work. We are using an assessment tool called StandOut by Marcus Buckingham’s organization. It identifies your top two areas of gifting – and helps you make sure you use those talents well. The coaching also shows you the minefields of your StandOut profile so that you can avoid situations and roles that do not bring out your best. The tool comes with a web portal full of coaching tips to help you understand yourself and share yourself with the organization.
The book process has reminded me of the power and importance of artful messaging – particularly the value of telling stories as a path to engage people in ideas. I think in business we forget this – and fall into patterns of boring, uninspired communication. But our people need motivation and inspiration to be effective. They need “soul sparks” that energize them for the work ahead.
I had a writing coach named Mark Levy. He taught me how to tell the stories of Popeyes and of my leadership experiences – and that is what has been meaningful to the readers of my book. They comment on the genuineness of the stories and how they allow the reader to discover for themselves the main ideas. We all prefer to discover our own insights. We all abhor boring lectures.
We should tell more stories at work!
Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others