My Commitment: NOT to fix our Culture!
A couple weeks ago Under Armour became the latest company to “own their truth” when on the heels of a scandal, their CEO wrote a letter committing to fix their corporate culture. In today’s increasingly transparent world, it seems there are just not that many rocks to hide under when bad stuff is happening. I think it’s appropriate to take everything I hear with a grain of salt; after all, it’s easy for anyone to make a public accusation. On the other hand, more times than not companies like Under Armour are just stepping up and saying “yup, true, sorry, we’ll get better” in these cases.
Before the first Toppers restaurant was opened back in 1991, we imagined that Toppers would be a special place for the people that worked there. We talked about HOW we would do business as much as we talked about WHAT we would sell. Whatever happened in our business venture, we were committed to loving the work we would do, loving the people we worked with, and being good people … not just good business people. Back in 1991, I’m not sure I’d really been exposed to “culture” as a business need; though I certainly had been raised in a fabulous business culture and understood deeply the power and importance of it to, not only succeed as a business, but enjoy the ride. After all, truth be told, I’m in this for the experience of my life.
Like many organizations, we regularly conduct a SWOT analysis to identify internal and external areas of strength and vulnerability. I have never seen a SWOT conducted at Toppers that didn’t have “culture” or “values” or “people” at the top of the list of strengths. Culture is like the air that you breathe; it could be easy to take it for granted because it’s all around you. At Toppers, I think we do a good job not only being grateful for what we have, but taking seriously our responsibility to preserve and grow the good thing we have for future Toppers Team Members.
But – does Culture matter to customers?
The day I saw the Under Armour story break on an early morning financial news show, their stock was up big. It was up for unrelated reasons and may have been up even more without the scandal news, but still, I found it interesting that investors that day obviously did not think customers would care enough about bad culture news to hurt their business significantly. On the other hand, when Papa Johns’ founder resigned amid allegations of racism, customers made them pay. They just announced that their comparative store sales were down a massive 9.8% in their third quarter and they closed more than 50 stores during that short time frame. There’s a lot more to that performance than bad culture exposed, but it’s a big part. Customers knew the story and they cared.
Ultimately building a business that grows and grows, every year for many years, like Toppers has really requires understanding what makes you distinctive and valuable to customers relative to your competitors. You see, in a free market, if customers value something enough, then competitors will rush in to duplicate that offering, and thus take away whatever distinctiveness your business had to begin with. For a business to build an advantage that is sustainable, it must drive its distinctive proposition so deep in everything it does that it would be costly or (gulp) impossible to copy. Many very good books have been written on this subject, but two I like are Blue Ocean and Playing to Win.
At Toppers Pizza we have a cross-section of distinctiveness that makes us who we are. We are known for our “Toppersworthy” food: fun and even quirky twists on pizza restaurant staples. It all started with unusual pizza toppings and quirky house pizzas – and now includes Buffalo Chicken Mac n Cheese Pizza, Loaded Tot-zza Pizza, and savory Monkey Bread. We have a signature product: Topperstix. Unlike our big competitors, we use 100% real mozzarella cheese that’s never frozen. We make our dough from scratch in our kitchens every day. And we are the rowdy, late-night, smack-talking pizza place that loves to have fun and bring the fun to our customers. These things together make Toppers unlike anyone else in the pizza business.
Invariably, when we have a few smart people in a room and the conversation circles around to our distinctive value proposition, our culture comes up. And the debate ensues.
“Culture is for us, it’s not something that makes us distinctive in the eyes of the customer.”
“Baloney, our values and attitude make it to the customer’s door in every pizza box!”
I think our culture is distinctive and valuable the way a family is distinctive and valuable. There are other good families, but they aren’t us! In today’s full-employment economic environment, good people simply won’t work for you if you don’t have a good thing going. No matter how you slice it, a strong, values-driven, healthy culture that attracts and retains the best talent IS a competitive advantage. And given all of the scandalous headlines out there, maybe it’s distinctive also!
There are 2,000 incredible Toppers Team Members flying the Toppers flag out there today! Thanks to you, we’ve got the best thing going, for us and our customers. I’m lucky to be part of it and I don’t plan to resign in shame ever!
Here’s to never having to fix our culture –