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Emotional Connection Is The Heart Of Leadership, Right?

August 6, 2015
Borderless Leadership

Ten years ago Jubilant FoodWorks Ltd, the exclusive Domino’s Pizza franchisee in India, was failing. Not only was the company bleeding red ink and struggling to service its debt, it had also generated significant controversy over food hygiene problems in a country with poor roads, terrible traffic and unpredictable delivery times. By this time, Jubilant’s owners were exploring options to sell the business and find as graceful an exit as possible.

With such a challenging backdrop, stepping into the role of CEO was not exactly the dream job Ajay Kaul had anticipated for his next career move. Given the fact that he had no experience in the food industry, gaining leadership credibility for the 3,000 employees he was about to lead would be seemingly implausible. But it wasn’t impossible.

Fast forward to today. Domino’s in India is the second largest Domino’s market outside the United States. The franchise currently employees 28,000 and has an astounding 70% market share in India. They make more than 55 million deliveries each year, with an equal number of orders picked up by customers coming into their stores.

So what accounted for such a dramatic turnaround? What did Ajay do to transform a failing business, amidst the same constraints of poor infrastructure and low household income into a food service powerhouse?

Ajay focused on something most of us wouldn’t expect if we were to ask the obvious question, “How do we sell more pizzas?” He focused, pointedly, on the culture of the company—more specifically: “the emotional connection between his people, their customers and their brand.”

We met up with Ajay at a NASCOMM event last week in Chennai, India. Here are six insights we gained into what he has done to build a powerful culture through emotional connection:

1. Connect To Happiness

Ajay told us he revised the purpose of the company to make an emotional connection with their customers. Employees rallied around their new mission: “We bring happiness into your household.” Those words not only place the attention on the customer, but they also signal to everyone that happiness is valued in the workplace.

To measure happiness, Ajay instituted a monthly pulse survey called the “happiness score.” Basically, customers and employees’ happiness is measured monthly. Leaders consistently know if either group is happy, unhappy, or indifferent. They know what to do more of, less of, and what needs tweaking. This is the metric Ajay cares most about.

2. Connect With A Lifeline

All 28,000 employees have access to Ajay’s personal cell number. While CEOs of large companies try to maintain some protective distance from their people, Ajay wants every employee to have his number because, “I want them to have the peace of mind that they can call the CEO in the moment of distress.”

When asked if employees actually call him, he said from time to time he gets a call, sometimes in the middle of the night. He treats all calls with sensitivity and care, making sure each person knows the company is there for them. Think about this. It’s a powerful reminder that every voice has a way of being heard (even though most don’t use it) by the CEO.

3. Connect Everyone To The Dream

Every employee is invited to share their ideas with the company. More than 18,000 ideas were submitted last year. If an employee’s idea gets implemented at the store level, they are recognized and rewarded. At a regional level, or national level, the recognition and share of value generated continue to scale up respectively. It’s a brilliant way to encourage broad-based innovation, and provide a financial upside for an employee base whose income is relatively static.

4. Connect By Caring About Wellbeing

When a pizza delivery person leaves the store for a delivery, every employee in the store yells out “drive safely!” This one simple cultural practice communicates they care for each other. Having spent the last 10 days on the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, and Chennai, we now have an uncanny appreciation for what it must be like delivering pizza through some of the world’s largest and most congested cities. Still, 99% of deliveries are made within 30 minutes.

5. Connect Leaders To People

Ajay ensures every leader goes out and works at one of the stores each quarter. He says it “brings them straight into the moment of truth with customers.” Of course, it also gives leaders insights from employees. In fact, every quarter senior leaders’ bonuses are based on the survey scores of the store managers. Since the stores are the profit centers of the company, Ajay feels that corporate leaders’ value should be determined by how supportive they are, and how much value they create for the stores. Not the other way around.

6. Connect To The Cause

While bringing in the New Year, millions of families in India choose to celebrate with pizza. On December 31, the CEO, his leadership team and every employee in the country reports for duty at Domino’s Pizza stores throughout India. It’s their busiest day of the year. But perhaps the most telling of all cultural metrics was this: On New Year’s Eve last year when every employee was working to keep up with demand, they were joined by more than 1,000 former employees who volunteered to help former colleagues take care of customers. Think of that. This culture is so powerful it drew people to a bigger cause—working for free and on a night they could be spending with family—simply out of love for their former employer and “delivering happiness to households.”

We can all learn from Ajay. Companies are formed by people—leaders, employees, and their customers. An emotional connection is what binds them together. Interestingly, at  Jubilant FoodWorks Ltd, the HR department is not called HR, they are called, “People First.” And, well, that says it all.

By David Sturt and Todd Nordstorm

Source: Forbes

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