If you’re the CEO of a company, it’s safe to bet that you’ve probably had a few years experience in the industry. For Arby’s CEO, Paul Brown, however, that wasn’t the case. Instead, he was hired by Roark Capital after being an executive of Hilton Worldwide for years. The restaurant chain empire was drowning — so why did they choose someone who knew very little about the fast food industry to bring them back to success?
The fact that Brown didn’t have expertise in this field is actually what enabled him to develop his winning strategy. Since he did not have all of the answers, he needed to find the right people to find out what needed to be done. The critical decision he made was to reach out to his employees — those who worked at the many restaurants around the country. But what he asked them was even better. He asked them one question — “what would you do if you were me”?
That single, simple question opened the floodgates about Arby’s. He learned what was working, what was broken, and most importantly, what they thought the company should do to turn the business around.
Here are a few takeaways to keep in mind about Paul’s strategy:
1. Get out of the office
Paul Brown joined Arby’s when they were losing market share and struggling to appeal to their customers. The answer as to why obviously wasn’t the prior CEO — hence the open position. That’s why Paul travelled to over 50 locations and went to the front lines of his company to speak with the employees that dealt with his customers directly. He found out what worked and what didn’t thanks to listening to a variety of unique perspectives.
When I speak with clients, this is a strategy I always encourage. Nothing good happens when you stay in your office. Go out and speak with the employees that work for your company and be open to their opinion — you may find innovative and game-changing answers even from entry-level employees. They are a valuable asset that you should cultivate. The proof of his success was apparent — Arby’s had its best year ever under Paul’s management. And Roark recently announced they’re acquiring Buffalo Wild Wings, another restaurant chain having problems where they expect Paul to do his magic again.
2. Check your ego at the door
Arby’s executive turnover rate was abnormally high — which gave him the task of regaining employee engagement and trust. Instead of coming in as an outsider thinking he had the all of the answers because he was the CEO, he engaged others in on the problem-solving process. Of course, he was new to the industry and the company, and did not have any preconceived ideas as to the way things had been run. You may not have that particular advantage but you can still do this succesfully.
When I encourage my clients to speak to employees from other departments, I occasionally get an eye roll. Some leaders’ egos won’t let them even consider the opinions of lower-level employee, especially if they contradict current processes and approaches. Please understand that every employee can offer new suggestions from his or her unique point of view. The point is to listen and not get offended by someone’s thoughts if they disagree with how you run things. Get ready to consider new and often challenging ideas. You’re in this to learn and improve, not for a series of compliments..