Crafting Your Leadership Framework

What are the keys to engineering a company or department turnaround?


Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes Lousiana Kitchen, discusses the building blocks of the turnaround that the company experienced under her leadership. Her “Roadmap to Results” helped establish the framework that focused the organization toward common goals.

“I think with every stakeholder group benefited from one plan, well-executed for a long period of time,” Cheryl said.

Watch the video to learn about the art of simple leadership framework.

Interviewer: Cheryl, under your leadership Popeyes had a tremendous turnaround, so I want to talk about that. And the turnaround really started with bringing a leadership framework to the organization. So tell us what that leadership framework is and really how you began to roll that out to the organization.

Cheryl: Well, when we began the turnaround to Popeyes we had several years of declining sales and profitability. Things were not going smoothly. In one sense that makes a turnaround situation easier because no one is confused. There is a problem. We've got to solve the problem. We brought together something we called the Roadmap to Results. It was a simple, one page framework for what we were going to work on to fix the business. It had four columns because we said the human can only remember three or four things. So we want to make this memorable.

That framework, which simply says, "Build a distinctive brand, run great restaurants, make money for the owners and build more quality restaurants." It's easy to remember and we've talked about that for five straight years. I think the power in a turnaround is the clarity of the destination and the consistency with which you stay with your messages. The history of the company was the message changed a lot and went left then right and the people were struggling to figure out how to get to a bold new destination.

So that roadmap has been the anchor in our business plan and kept us focused on the destination. Behind it, we put some basic goals: grow sales 20%, improve guest satisfaction 20%, improve restaurant operating profit 40% and then build 130 or more restaurants a year. And five years later, we have hit every one of those goals, and I think it was the diligence and consistency of sticking with that plan.

Interviewer: I want to talk about that 20%, but I want to go back to something you said that you said this over and over and over again. I think sometimes as leaders we think we say it once, everybody gets it, we go into the next thing. So talk about the power of repeating the vision over and over and over again.

Cheryl: Absolutely. I tell my leaders we want to get really boring with all of our audiences because we lose interest long before anybody else loses interest. So we've had an annual report every year, and the framework has been those four pillars every year for five years. It's boring, but our investors know exactly what to expect from us. We don't change the game up and explain new things to them right and left, and they don't get lost in the journey and so I think with every stakeholder group, our franchisees, our restaurant operators, our investors, even our board has benefited from the staying power of one plan well executed over a long period of time.

Interview: Now, Let's go back and talk about that 20%. That's very healthy. That's aggressive. Some would say, "Uh, Can we do that?" So how did you make sure that this is a stretchable goal but it is also an achievable goal?

Cheryl: Well, we looked at the industry and what was realistic to achieve but we also looked at where really you have to be to achieve good money in the restaurant business. And a million-dollar restaurant is good, but a million-two is way better in an average restaurant. So we wanted to stretch ourselves to get to a real tipping point of profitability so that we could grow faster and we had benchmarks in our industry to point to. There were other people doing that or better, so it was a stretch for us but it was plausible to the organization.

I'll be honest with you though, I don't think anybody believed we were going to hit it on the first day, and I think that's where courage comes in leadership, is to call out a stretch destination, trust that you'll figure out how to get there even if you don't know on that first day and never blink.

Interviewer: Now, do you ever as a CEO set a vision, but then walk off and go, "Can we do this?"

Cheryl: "Oh, wonder how that is going to happen?"

Interviewer: Right, right.

Cheryl: Yes, I think the leader should scare themselves. Early in my career somebody told me, "If your vision isn't making your palms sweat, it's probably not that bold of an idea." And so I often check myself to say, "Is this making me uncomfortable? Will it make me think about how I staff and structure and grow and learn myself to be able to lead to the next destination?" A stretched organization is a high performing organization because everyone is trying to grow quick enough to catch up with the goal and so, I think that's healthy but it starts with the leader.

Interviewer: A lot of folks watching this may be in a situation where they have to turn around, there needs to be change. So you've given us some great insights, but where should they start in terms of starting that turnaround process?

Cheryl: They should start by listening to the people already in place, because as it's often said, the answer is in the room, and it's just true, if you take on a company or a small team, it doesn't matter what the size is, the people working on the situation know it best. Listen to them. Hear them out. One of my favorite bosses went to every location of the company he led and listened to the middle management team and he said, "If you were me, what would you work on?" And he collected all the insights he needed to create a strong business plan to turn around that company. And when he brought the plan back out, people said, "He listened," and they got behind that plan and executed that plan better because it was their idea.

Interviewer: Right, so they're not saying, "That's her plan," they're saying, "That's our plan.”

Cheryl: "That's my plan." That's right.

Interviewer: And that's what you did before you made any decisions. You listened.

Cheryl: We went on a seven city listening tour, was the first thing that we did. We talked in every one of the seven cities. We talked to owners, we talked to restaurant managers and we talked to guests and we said, "Tell us about Popeyes. Tell us the good, the bad and the ugly because we want to make it a better place for you." And then that crafted the tenets of our business plan.

Interviewer: And you're experiencing the success of that turnaround.

Cheryl: Yes we are.


Cheryl Bachelder

Cheryl A. Bachelder is the former CEO Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. and author of Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others. She is known for her crisp strategic thinking, franchisee-focused approach, superior ...

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