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National Restaurant Association - 5 sweet tips for leadership success

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5 sweet tips for leadership success

After four years as president of Cinnabon, Kat Cole has taken on the role of group president for global channels at Focus Brands, which owns Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Seattle’s Best Coffee and other popular brands. At the 2015 Human Resources & Risk and Safety Study Group, Cole discussed how to make the most of mistakes and wins. 

Ask for help. Get reinforcement from colleagues, suppliers, partner restaurant companies and competitors. That creates advocates among institutions and groups that want to see you be successful, and that you want to see be successful. “Walking a road alone does mean you can probably go faster, but it also means you’re alone.”

Borrow techniques from other industries. Cinnabon borrowed the idea of “hack-a-thons” from the tech industry. Put different people in a group they don’t typically work with, give them an assignment or a problem to solve, and give them a compressed period to solve it, she suggests. “Bring in pizza, work 24 hours, and they come up with wacky, crazy ideas.” Cole involves customers and  suppliers in such meetings, as well as HR, risk management and other disciplines. “It is cheap, fast and there’s an unintended benefit: In the course of solving the problem, you also get hyper-engaged employees, who believe and know they are part of the solution.”

Celebrate failure. When people make small mistakes, celebrate it. An executive’s mistake once cost Cinnabon $50,000 in EBITDA, Cole says. But it was a new business line and a new partnership, so the company highlighted it.  Leaders said, “Thank goodness this happened now and not when this was much bigger and it cost us $5 million.” It’s better to fail fast and early when an initiative is new, than later when it’s systemically engaged and driving the business. Helping leaders understand that is very powerful.

Focus on what’s possible. At Cinnabon, Cole targeted those she called “the coalition of the willing.” Instead of trying to convince an entire system to make a leap of faith with meaningful investments and menu changes, she focused on believers. She rewarded franchisees who adopted changes early and readily. “We shined a light on the success that came from that one person in making the change … and it worked. Sometimes just one small win can be the catalyst that can be the driver for massive change.”

Show up. When you roll out something that affects the front line, you or a member of your team should be physically be there to see how it’s being adopted. That means partnering with the operations side of the business and staying close to the customer and the front line employees. Being there will give you an emotional connection and show a sense of urgency to make necessary tweaks. That will likely make whatever you’re implementing more successful.

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