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For the first time, QSR had the honor of attending the Women’s Foodservice Forum’s Annual Leadership Development Conference, held this year on April 14–17 in Orlando, Florida.
Filled with amazing speakers, attendees, and leaders from across the foodservice industry—including quick-serve executives like Cinnabon’s Kat Cole and Jamba Juice’s James White—the four-day conference was packed full of inspiring seminars, enlightening panel discussions, and opportunities to network with more than 2,600 individuals from across the industry (check out photos from the conference on our Facebook page!).
While we picked up more pieces of advice for brands and leaders than could possibly be written down, we wanted to leave you with a few gems. Here are our eight biggest takeaways from the conference:
Show your customers the love. In his “Releasing Leadership Brilliance: How to Lead in the Midst of Uncertainty” seminar, business coach Simon T. Bailey showed that the best brands are those in the business of making moments, memories, and connections with customers. Guests must constantly "feel the love" from a brand in every intereaction, and Bailey said the formula for unparalleled customer loyalty requires a brilliant brand story, leaders, employees, and customer experience.
Leaders have to be trustworthy and accountable. It may sound like a no-brainer, but good leaders—be they store managers or brand executives—must be accountable to their actions and be trustworthy figures. Management consultant John Spence said that if leaders don’t communicate clearly, give a definition of what an acceptable performance looks like, handle dysfunctional employee behavior, and promote accountability, the best team members will leave the organization. Meanwhile, business coach Michael Staver said leaders must build rapport among their teams and adapt their communication strategies to employees. Leaders, he said, must be like coaches, and appropriately coaching someone includes three steps: identifying results you’d like to obtain; being clear about the strategy you’ll use to obtain them; and offering an action plan with a deadline.
Recognize your employees. High-caliber, satisfied, and motivated employees are the key to running a top-notch brand, and one of the best ways to motivate them is to authentically connect with them, Bailey said. In addition, be sure to recognize every positive behavior, as what is recognized gets repeated.
If you want to succeed, you must focus on teamwork. Former astronaut Mike Mullane, who was a crewmember on three missions to space, used the 1986 Challenger space shuttle tragedy as an example of when bad things happen to teams with strong histories. Things break down, he said, when teams allow repeated deviance from the correct action to become the norm; in NASA’s case, continued oversight of mechanical issues led to the Challenger’s demise. Perhaps in a quick-serve setting, a team could deviate from standard customer service, maintenance, or preparation methods, eventually deteriorating the customer experience. But he said if a team works together to plan best practices; remains aware of how the work environment is changing; reviews past failures and the path to success; and periodically resets the standard to that of a best practice, business will thrive.
Define your brand, and stick to it. Every company has a vision for itself, and having a strong brand identity is one of the easiest ways to communicate that vision. To make sure customers, clients, and others in the industry see your brand the way you envision it, every action you take, product you release, ad campaign you run, and statement you make must reinforce your brand identity and what makes you the “real deal,” said executive coach Connie Dieken.
To beat your competitors, you must stay ahead of the curve. The world is changing, folks. Trends come and go faster than ever before, and technologies are improving exponentially every year. Futurist Jack Uldrich said the best approach to beating your competitors is not jumping onboard with trends as they happen, but predicting where the trends are going and getting to them first. New food technologies—GMOs, for example, or information tools like Food Genius—give foodservice operators the ability to vastly change their business before their competitors do.
Focus on your strengths. Listening to feedback is important—otherwise, what's the point of guest surveys?—and improving on your brand weaknesses is essential to progressing and excelling in the industry. But to truly find success, brands and leaders must stop obsessing about their faults and start focusing on their strengths and positives, said life coach Valorie Burton in her keynote address. Your continual focus on what makes the brand great will have customers forgetting your shortcomings in no time.
The WFF is not just for women. While the Women’s Foodservice Forum is a wonderful networking opportunity for women—and, obviously, focuses primarily on improving the business climate for women in foodservice—the organization is also an excellent resource for men. Sure, the vast majority of the annual conference’s attendees were women. But the educational sessions zeroed in on how men and women alike can improve their leadership abilities and, at the same time, their career trajectories. The organization also gives men actionable tips on how they can sponsor, coach, and advocate for women in their professional networks.
By Mary Avant and Sam Oches