When a brand loses what made it special, that loss is always rooted in losing the culture that made the company what it was. While brands certainly need to reinvent themselves along the way and revise the brand narrative, changing the DNA of the brand should not be part of the equation. Are you listening Chipotle?
Many years ago at Chipotle we had a conference theme one year called “Back To The Burrito” and it was all about staying focused on the core of what made us great; food prepared using classic cooking techniques and service that recognized the art of creating a great guest experience for every individual. Over a decade ago, post-IPO, there were guardrails that helped us to keep from getting ahead of ourselves and outstripping our growth. And those guardrails kept us hungry and humble. We were cocky, but we had earned that right. We were scrappy. We were focused. And we were damn good at what we were doing, and the culture we had built and were building, protected that.
The job of new leadership is not to come in and dismantle everything and put it all back together in hopes that you become a 10B company. It’s to come in and seek to understand what it was that made the brand great, figure out what caused the mission drift, and fix those things to allow yourself to get back to what made you great, and then, rock and roll.
I personally do not see how chocolate shakes, quesadillas, happy hour and all the rest of it are going to help Chipotle become a great brand again. Will it help the stock price? Maybe. Someday, this will all be written about and taught in organizational development classes and leadership classes in business schools everywhere as examples of what grasping at straws looks like in a desperate effort to save a company.
Trying to fix throughput by adding new menu items, which you have to train the staff how to execute on, does not make any sense, and will hurt throughput, not help it. Rolling out what they’re calling Chipotle 2.0 with a slick new look isn’t going to fix the root problem of a broken culture. Moving the headquarters to California so that you can find great new talent isn’t going to fix the talent acquisition/management part of the equation.
To be fair, there are some good things happening at Chipotle in this time of change. Figuring out how to better utilize technology, digital, and social, to drive traffic makes all kinds of sense, but you have to be sure the type of experience you are driving them into is what you want, which again makes one thing more important above everything else…PEOPLE, and the right culture to build around.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there are two generations of Chipotle alumni who are watching what happens here and hoping for the best, but the hardest part of all of this is that it wasn’t that hard to fix…the right way. I just hope it isn’t too late when the people running the show figure that out.