Why We Benefit From Eating A Little Humble Pie

Everyone loves to talk about their strengths. From commercials to political speeches, from celebrities to job interviewees, people are much more comfortable talking about where they excel, rather than identifying any potential weaknesses. The prevailing logic is that hiding one’s shortcomings is the best way to put your “best face forward.”

Although this may seem like a reasonable assumption, both research and case studies highlighting the benefits of humility have emerged in recent years. One of my favorite real-life examples comes from Domino’s Pizza.

In the mid-2000s Domino’s pizza was really struggling. The incoming Chief Marketing Officer (Russell Weiner) inherited flat sales cycles in the midst of a struggling economy. At the heart of Domino’s’ challenge was the quality of their pizzas, as various internal taste tests had highlighted. Domino’s then took the extra step of gathering feedback from its various stakeholders, including customers and franchisees, to better inform their future directions. Using this critical feedback, they committed to turning out higher quality pizza and revamped their entire recipe from crust to toppings.

Although the internal directive to change their recipe, which had been in existence for 50 years, represented a bold step, perhaps their most striking endeavor was the level of transparency they showed regarding this critical problem. Rather than try to sweep it under the rug or use ‘creative marketing’ to detract attention, Domino’s took a highly unusual step of tackling it head-on.

Perhaps the most forward-thinking aspect of their ‘re-launch’ was a series of commercials, which aired in 2009 and 2010. In these ads, customers were shown voicing their disgust at the quality of the “old recipe” pizza (e.g., “the crust tastes like cardboard”). These comments were then followed by Domino’s hitting the streets with their new product to re-engage with their harshest detractors to win them back.

The company also released a short-film, which provided the history of the pizza chain as well as showing the painstaking reactions from employees while hearing and reading these complaints.

As President Patrick Doyle noted in the short film, “You can either use negative comments to get you down or you can use them to excite you and energize your process and make it a better pizza. We did the latter.”

Early returns from the campaign indicated it was an incredible success, with a 14.3% increase in same-store Q1 sales from 2009 to 2010, with similar gains realized in Q3 (11.2% improvement when compared to Q3 in 2009).

This trend has continued, with the stock price climbing almost 20% over the past four years. The entire transformation is not yet complete, as Doyle is committed to providing complete transparency to Domino’s customers by 2017 by allowing them to see the entire pizza-making process.

What can we learn from Domino’s?

1)            Do not be afraid to completely start over – Domino’s acknowledged their problem rested in a 50-year-old approach to making pizza and set out to change it. Despite the history of the company being built on this recipe, they committed to change. When the environment speaks, even when we may not like the message, we need to listen.

2)            Use the harshest criticism to inspire next-level greatness – Domino’s could have easily dismissed this feedback or decided not to reach out to these individuals once they re-launched their product. Rather than take this approach, Domino’s included these individuals as part of their campaign with the primary aim of bring these customers back into the fold.

3)            Vulnerability is a painful, yet powerful experience – It is not easy listening to scathing feedback. However, being open and accepting allows us to build even stronger relationships with the people around us, even when we may feel the opposite. Showing our vulnerability and empathizing with the customer experience goes a long way to building a better brand and stakeholder relationships.

Despite our widespread desire for transparency and authenticity, it is very often perceived as a risky endeavor. Domino’s has shown that embracing this fear and being open to learning can benefit ourselves as well as the people around us. The next time you are facing tough feedback, remember the storied franchise that faced these messages head-on. Eating some humble pie and using this experience to maximize our potential opens us up to all of the possibilities that life has to offer. By engaging our detractors with an open mind and a willingness to listen, we can turn our harshest critics into our staunchest supporters.

Posted in Authenticity, Do Good to Do Well, Humility, Self Awareness, Success

An exercise in self-awareness

self-awareness word in wood type

self-awareness word in wood typeResearch and anecdotal evidence point to the importance of self-awareness for our personal and professional success. A recent example comes from a study of executives conducted by Green Peak Partners in collaboration with the School of Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. The research team concluded that although self-awareness is generally not a priority in the search for leaders, it should actually be a top criterion, as it was the strongest predictor of overall executive success.

So how do we increase our self-awareness to leverage its benefits? We are naturally biased toward our own opinions and behaviours, which can make self-reflection a challenging undertaking. (See Robert Sutton’s detailed exploration of the obstacles to self-awareness here.)

Therefore, an effective strategy for overcoming our own bias is to seek information outside of ourselves. One exercise that can be used to great effect is the Reflected Best Self Exercise. This evidence-based tool is one of the most robust available and was born from research conducted at the University of Michigan. Here is how it works:

1)      Ask a cross-section of people who know you well to write a story about a time when they saw you at your best. These individuals should be friends, colleagues, and even family members. More diverse input will lead to better quality information, so make sure that you are engaging people from different parts of your life.

2)      Look for patterns – When you receive or listen to the stories, focus on identifying patterns in the narratives. By putting these patterns together, you can make a list of your top themes or ‘strengths’ that emerged and pull out key examples for each one.

3)      Build your ‘strengths profile’ – Now that you have gathered the commonalities amongst this information, you can write about who you are at your best. This can be an invaluable frame of reference in terms of setting yourself for success and recognizing when conditions may not be in your favour. Another equally powerful benefit of this exercise is the collection of stories that feature you at your best, which may be an especially powerful boost when going through a career transition or a period of disengagement at work.

4)      Actions speak louder than words – Don’t stop there. Build an action plan (and hold yourself accountable) for putting your strengths to work in your personal and professional life. The most powerful form of learning comes through the application of what you are developing.

Self-awareness is a highly desirable and elusive goal. The Reflected Best Self exercise can assist us making headway in this journey. Once you have identified your strengths, make sure that you find ways to put them to work to help you continue benefitting from the best of you.

I would love you hear your experience with this exercise. Feel free to share any modifications or ask any questions that arise and enjoy the process of getting to know your best self!





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Posted in Self Awareness, Success
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