After serving as president of KFC, Cheryl Bachelder became CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2007. At the time, the national chain of fried chicken restaurants was a mess. Employee morale suffered amid plummeting sales and profits. Franchise owners distrusted the company’steam.
Determined to reverse the downhill spiral, Bachelder revamped the culture. She encouragedand knocked down silos that prevented collaboration. She treated every employee with respect and warmth, embracing the concept of servant leadership in which her job revolved around supporting their success.
Rather than make bold plans in her early months as CEO, Bachelder focused on mending fences with disgruntled franchise owners. She traveled to seven cities, meeting franchise owners in small groups and inviting input. Calling it a “listening tour,” she took detailed notes.
“I think that’s the key—to not assume you know,” she says. “And also that you never forget that the people closest to the business actually do know what’s going on.”
Based on their feedback, Bachelder formulated a turnaround plan. She drafted a one-page list of goals, strategies and priorities that she billed “the Road Map for Results.” She led town-hall meetings to share her road map with employees and solicit their opinions, asking them, “Does that ring true? Is that what you were trying to tell us? Is that a plan you could be excited about?”
Another key to the turnaround: Bachelder’s embrace of the Golden Rule. She urges everyone to act like the leader they wished they worked for. She often asks supervisors to describe the traits of a great leader that they’ve known. Then she asks, “Are you being that leader to the people that work for you?”
— Adapted from “Servant Leadership in a Louisiana Kitchen,” Sarah Stanley, www.acton.org.