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Process Trumps Chaos

At Popeyes, our third principle is: “We are fact-based and planful.” I know that sounds really boring as a principle, but we have to talk about it because it has revolutionized the way we work and helped us reach our performance goals.

In the fall of 2007, the work environment at Popeyes was chaotic – a state of confusion and disorder prevailed. The word “chaos” is derived from a Greek word meaning “chasm” or “void.” In our conversation today, “chaos” means a “void” in leadership.

One of the essential roles of leadership is to clear up confusion and disorder for the people, so they can make wise decisions and focus on a few things that might actually help the business grow and prosper. To do this, the leader must have facts in-hand and a plan for the future.

Initially, we had very few facts at Popeyes. We knew restaurant sales – but not much else. We didn’t know how much food and labor was costing at the restaurants. We didn’t know if the restaurants were making any money. We didn’t know if our market share was up or down. We didn’t know if our new products were successes or failures. We didn’t know if our drive-thru’s were slow or fast for our guests. We didn’t know if our guests were satisfied or miserable.

This lack of information led to one predictable outcome. Everyone had their own opinion.

The first step we took to turn around this company was to collect the facts we needed to measure our performance.  We needed to have real numbers in the room – or else we would have screaming matches with our franchise owners saying, “My opinion is right, and yours is wrong.” And without facts to guide our decisions, our success rate would be statistically random.

The second step was building plans. We built a plan for creating new products, with a process to generate new ideas for testing every 100 days, followed by research to find out which ones the guests wanted to buy. We started planning what we would feature on television every month, with enough lead time to execute well. We started planning the roll-out of new drive-thru training to improve speed of service. We started planning cost savings to help the restaurant P&L improve. Today we plan our business in detail one year ahead – and any major investment 2-3 years ahead.  Plans have made it possible for our franchise owners to see ahead and commit to executing well in the restaurants.

The antidote for chaos is process. It even sounds that way in the dictionary. “Process” is defined as a series of actions that produce something or lead to a particular result. Leaders must see that the team has processes in place to collect the facts and make firm plans, if they hope to produce any results.

Process trumps chaos.  Facts and plans produce results.

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