I have a question for you this Foodie Friday. Are you paying attention to what’s going on with Chipotle? You should be because I believe the events of the last few months will be studied for years as a terrific example of how to handle what really could have been a crisis that threatened the chain’s entire existence. Lucky us: we get to watch it unfold in real-time!
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In case you’re not aware, there was an E. coli outbreak at Chipotle stores in the Pacific Northwest. The outbreak widened to include nine states in which 53 people reported being ill. On the other coast, more than 140 people became sick with norovirus in the Boston area after eating at a Chipotle. Most restaurants take a hit when a single person becomes sick because inevitably that person tells the world via social media. A couple of hundred illnesses, the involvement of the CDC, and the mandatory shutting down of restaurants is well beyond your basic bad day at the office.
The good news is that zero customers have reported getting sick from E. Coli since late November and the crisis seems to have abated. What’s been fascinating to watch is how Chipotle management has been handling this. The stock tanked, understandably. Did they deny anything was wrong or blame suppliers? Nope. They have been incredibly transparent and proactive. As one article reported:
The first step of Chipotle’s food safety plan is to analyze every ingredient and all of the restaurant procedures in a “farm-to-fork” risk assessment. High-resolution sampling and new sanitation protocols will prevent contaminants such as E. coli from entering the restaurants. Chipotle is sampling all of its ingredients using DNA-based tests to ensure the quality of its ingredients.
They are also shutting down the entire chain in February so that management can tell employees everything they know about the E. coli outbreak and what they’re doing to ensure it doesn’t recur. They’ll review food safety as procedures as well. And if that’s not enough, they’ll be giving away free food.
This is a chain that built up an enormous amount of goodwill among its customers through its food. They position themselves as using responsibly farmed ingredients and as a healthy, inexpensive alternative to fast food. Any business can learn why keeping customers happy and making deposits in the goodwill checkbook is so critical as you see how customers are reacting during this crisis. They know there has been a problem but the goodwill will get them back in the stores once the crisis has passed. Another key point has been to recapture consumer trust by being as transparent as this management team has been. Finally, being proactive and fixing things is way better than just “letting the crisis pass”.
I’ll be back at Chipotle. You?
Foodie Friday Fun begins with a look out the window as Winter Storm Nemo approaches. That arrival seems to have spurred a rush to the supermarket by everyone in our town, at least according to my sister who found mostly bare shelves when she went this morning. I suppose we could talk today about what one can prepare when there might not be electricity to operate an oven, microwave or many stoves. We have a gas range but without electricity there is no range hood so we have to be careful about what we make. But that’s not really the food subject today.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Making sure that there’s ample food, water, and batteries is becoming a regular event in our area as we’ve been hit by massive storms a few times over the last two years. The accuracy with which these events have been predicted, even down to the time when the storms arrive and depart, is pretty amazing. What the forecasters can’t predict, however, is which trees will cause a power problem or block access to roads. Even with much better tools, there are big uncertainties that will affect our specific situation. That’s today’s business point.
The hardest part of your job as a leader to see over the horizon. The next hardest part is convincing others that what you’re seeing is right and to take the appropriate action based on your forecast. How angry would you be if you bought gallons of water and lots of food only to find out that the blizzard was a couple of inches of snow? How dangerous is it when they predict a dusting of snow and you wake up to eighteen inches of heavy, wet slush? Being able to assemble the known information into a cogent prediction of the future is a skill that comes only with time and experience (easy to say coming from an older guy, I know). Take our friend Nemo, here. There are a dozen computer models that disagreed a day or two ago about the storm’s impact. A few even do so today. Which of the models you choose to believe can have an impact, especially if you’re the person deciding to call in plow drivers or buy salt for the roads.
I think if I could wish for one thing in business it would be tomorrow’s newspaper. I’d then have a perfect look over the horizon, at least for a day. For now all we can do is to try to find the Nemos that will impact our business lives that are lurking out there. Then we need to get to the store and make sure our team is prepared to hunker down and ride it out.
Now, where did I put the spare batteries?
We had some snow here last weekend and as I drove around afterwards I saw a number of snowmen. With the warmer weather this past week, many of them are gone now, victims of the rain and warmth. Those that remain don’t look as they did when the conditions were optimal. This, of course, triggered a business thought and a question we all might ask ourselves.
Image by andreasmarx via Flickr
I’ve known a bunch of snowmen in business. These are people who look terrific under optimal conditions but who melt away as soon as conditions change. You know the types. They’re the people who are standing tall when the presentation went well or sales are flowing. As soon as things get a little warm – business takes a downturn, the boss is angry about something – they get a lot smaller. Maybe they even fade away completely. They can’t deal with changing or sub-optimal conditions.
Contrast a snow person’s (why limit this to men!) behavior with that of the firefighters among us. These are the people who, when things are turning bad, run to the problem. They ask “how can I help?”, not “where can I hide?”. The next time an alarm goes off in your business life, part of handling the crisis ought to be taking note of who melts, who waits to be rescued, and who rushes at the problem. The last group is the keepers.
Snowmen are fun to build but a disaster to have around the office. Give me firefighters every time. You?