Leaders of large organizations cannot meet regularly with every employee to reinforce important points. So a CEO needs to take creative steps to communicate to a far-flung workforce.
At Chipotle, the burrito chain, founder and co-CEO Steve Ells sends messages through multiple channels. He designs each restaurant to maximize interaction between customer and food preparer, which reminds employees to connect with each visitor and deliver personal service.
As people give their order, employees maintain eye contact and rarely turn their backs. In competing fast-food joints, by contrast, employees often turn and walk away from the customer after taking an order.
Similarly, Ells communicates the importance of serving fresh food by positioning his employees behind the counter grilling meat and stirring rice. Customers can see their dishes being prepared; if they order guacamole, employees are trained to say something like, “It’s a good batch. I just made it.”
To convey the value of quality ingredients, Ells takes a minimalist approach. He communicates powerful messages with few words. For example, he told managers that Chipotle was eliminating onion-cutting machines in favor of having staffers cut each onion by hand. They knew this would be more time-consuming, but Ells simply said, “It tastes better.”
Ells faced a different kind of communication challenge in 2011 when he wanted the public to know Chipotle buys vegetables from local farms and supports sustainability in other ways.
So he commissioned a two-minute film called “Back to the Start” to air on television during the Grammy Awards.
The story follows a farmer doing business locally. It contains no speaking, and the only promotion of Chipotle is as it ends—when the word appears on the side of a delivery truck. Viewers learn of Chipotle’s devotion to buying from local farms without feeling subjected to a preachy commercial.
— Adapted from “America’s most inspiring CEOs,” A.J. Jacobs, www.esquire.com.
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