What music has taught me about running a pizza empire

I have been involved in creating and performing most all my adult life, from writing songs and playing guitar with friends to performing in a bluegrass band at medium-sized venues around town. To say that music is a big part of my life would be an understatement.

My day job, however, is running a $200 million pizza company.  We have 160 restaurants east of the Mississippi, 5,000 amazing associates and 30 franchise partners. We also have a frozen pizza division that sells Sonoma Flatbread Gluten Free pizzas through more than 4,000 grocery retailers across the United States.

It is a coin toss as to which feeds my passion more… pizza or music.

The most interesting part about this is that I have learned more about leadership from music than from any business strategy book I have read. Let me explain.

Start with the concept of “purpose.”  We spend a lot time as a leadership team talking about how best to connect with our people, inspire our teams and tap into the emotions of our customers. Similarly, songwriters spend much of their time working from this same starting point.  If we could bottle music’s ability to connect to its audience on a deeper level and leverage that in our business strategies, we would have all the raving fans and fully engaged associates we could handle.

So, what are some of the strategic techniques we could draw from music and songwriting?

Repetition is key

First, consider the repetition and consistency used in song writing. The chorus of a song is much like the mission of your company.  How often do you talk about it?  How simple is it? How consistent are you about how you frame it?  I would venture to guess that 99% of the time, when I say the words “I wanna rock and roll all night…” someone will respond with “and party every day…” Why? Because you have heard that chorus over and over and over. With business, how many times does our mission statement convey what we think is truly important for the company? How often do we over-complicate our mission in an effort to be complete and thorough? This happens more often than you may think, but at the price of confusing our teams when we do it.

Make sure your vision is clear

The next parallel I find particularly interesting has to do with messaging. The most successful organizations are the ones that have a clear picture of their vision and are focused on only a handful of initiatives to help them achieve their goals. When organizations, or leadership for that matter, have an inability to prioritize and plan accordingly, they end up trying to do too many things at once and accomplish nothing. This shotgun approach to management only creates inefficiency and limited thinking. Combine that with the stress of an overworked team that’s continually missing their targets and you have a demoralized, disengaged and exhausted organization.

At my pizza business, we focus on one single effort: our Make or Break. Once we have identified that primary goal, we select a HANDFUL of initiatives that all support that ONE goal. These initiatives are we call our Big Rocks (hat tip to Stephen Covey) and we carry them through everything we do.

Some of the most appealing songs ever written are no more than three and a half minutes long with a simple chorus (which you can equate to your company’s mission) repeated over and over and three verses (consider these your Big Rocks). Too many business plans are written so only a few people in the entire company understand what’s really going on. The role of a leader is to take the complex and make it simple. No one in the organization should have to fight to figure out what the company is doing and why. Just like a popular song, the plan should be memorable and easily played back. That’s how you build engagment and ownership.

Much can be learned from understanding the power of music. Wouldn’t any organization want to be characterized as compelling, memorable, focused, simple, impactful? Just like popular music, our business strategies can be as impactful and top of mind as anything the Rolling Stones have written.

Tom Krouse is the president and CEO of Donatos Pizza. He has over three decades of restaurant industry experience, countless civic contributions and an award-winning career in marketing and management. He is also lead singer and guitarist for Grassinine.