Empowerment is a word and topic that gets discussed a lot throughout our organization, and focus on it has tightened in 2019. For the rest of April, you’ll be hearing from different voices within our various teams about empowerment; what it means to them, how it feels to have it or not have it, what makes it hard, how do you actually give or get it, and more. These musings might hit your inbox more than just once a week, if they do please know my intent is not to overwhelm, it’s to share multiple perspectives and I don’t want to put a limit on that.
Our first contribution to the discussion is from Vestalia’s CFO and owner, Conrad Leifur. Read on to get his take on empowerment and how he sees it being essential to our organization and its future.
Please weigh in with your thoughts! We learn and grow from the feedback you give us – from “that’s cool” to “gotta push back on this.” Thank you for your time and interest – Becky
by Conrad Leifur, 4/10/19
I have a specific vision of empowerment for our organization that is born of necessity— we have restaurants that are getting old in restaurant years (if the statistic that the average lifespan of a restaurant is five years is accurate). Exhibit A is Pizzeria Lola, well into its ninth year. While still an extremely busy restaurant by any measure, Lola’s sales declined in 2017 and 2018, and are down so far in 2019. While that’s pretty clear feedback from the market that we are less relevant than we were three years ago, it’s necessary to point out that things have not “slipped” at Lola–objective measures of food and service quality remain as high or even higher than they’ve ever been.
There are many possibilities that could explain Lola’s sales decline, my belief is it is a result of “the offering” (which encompasses all aspects of the guest experience we provide) not keeping pace with consumer preferences and expectations, which continue to change in both obvious and subtle ways. Examples include the trend towards plant-based diets and consumer expectations of being able to summon any kind of food with a few clicks on their phone (e.g., online ordering, third party delivery services). In order to sustain growth and keep their customer bases engaged, Lola, Hello, and Young Joni will need to evolve their offerings to adapt to these and other changes in the marketplace, creatively and consistent with their respective brands. If they don’t, they will fade away.
The strategic planning required to evolve has largely been missing in our organization; to the extent that it has existed, it’s been sporadic, top down, and generally baffling and/or frustrating to the store teams. This is the opportunity for empowerment: It’s my vision and strong belief that this strategic planning function should be driven by the same people who are responsible for execution: store leadership. Not someone in “corporate,” not “the owners.” Why? Store leadership knows their guests and neighborhoods better than any “remote” entity. Also, they are uniquely positioned to collaborate with and get commitment from the store teams, and overcome the resistance and objections that accompany any change effort. Finally, I have a strong personal bias against corporate-driven initiatives based on my experiences working in large organizations; I have always sought out empowerment in my career and I want that to be a hallmark of this organization.
It’s important to note that although the store leadership “drives” or “champions” the evolution process, they won’t be doing it on an island or in a vacuum. Shared, facilitative leadership remains our model, and collaboration will be the expectation. Vestalia will support the process by providing resources and sharing expertise in areas like culinary development, marketing, and project management.
Achieving this vision won’t be easy; at the same time, it’s not rocket science. I believe the biggest challenges to creating an empowered organization will revolve around building trust and communication, and overcoming the baggage and habits of doing things the “old way.” Can Vestaila trust the store leadership to drive an effective strategic planning and execution process, and give them room to fail and learn? Can the store leadership challenge their own doubts about Vestalia’s role and trust our empowerment intent, and call us out if our actions or words seem to contradict that intent?
I’m confident we can get there and will persist until we do!