Pausing to Move Forward: Sending a Powerful Message

You’ve probably seen the headlines over the last few weeks about how Chipotle closed all locations for a company-wide meeting on food safety. The news articles range from mildly noteworthy to shocked predictions of the certain doom of the restaurant chain. When I heard about Chipotle’s plan, I was reminded of another well-known company that did this in 2008: Starbucks.

These companies are harnessing the power of “pausing to move forward,” and it’s worth taking a closer look at why this strategy can have a positive effect on businesses.

Pausing sends a message about priorities to your employees.pause to play image

Pausing all day-to-day operations to get everyone focused can engage and energize employees and rally them around the mission. For Starbucks in 2008, the rallying was around pouring the perfect shot of espresso and reconnecting with customers. After the training, employees reported that the standard had been raised and each of them would be held accountable for it. They were excited about being “not only in the coffee business but also in the people business.” In his book, Onward, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, stated: “Ultimately, closing our stores was most powerful in its symbolism. It was a galvanizing event for Starbucks’ partners—the term we use for our employees—a stake in the ground that helped reestablish some of the emotional attachment and trust we had squandered during our years of focusing on hypergrowth. A bold move that I stand by today, it sent a message that decisiveness was back at Starbucks.”

Pausing sends a message about priorities to your customers.

While customers may be inconvenienced for a few hours, a broader message about commitment to quality is sent. For Starbucks it was admitting they needed to get back to the basics, correcting any negative customer experiences and loudly declaring they planned to make it right going forward. In the case of Chipotle, they were training employees on some big changes made to ensure food safety issues don’t happen in the future. They paired that with a message reinforcing their commitment to ethically grown and sourced food by investing $10 million in small farmers. In addition, they gave away free burritos to win over customers who were inconvenienced by their stores briefly closing.

The payoff can definitely be worth the costs.

While Starbucks lost several million dollars during its 3-hour training session, the company started seeing the payoff quickly. Howard Schultz explains in Onward how the company coffee scores went up and stayed up in the weeks following the training, and how they started hearing great stories about the connections partners were making with customers over espresso. Starbucks’ fiscal reports have been trending consistently upward since 2009. They now have over 23,000 stores globally and reported record traffic and sales in 2015. Time will tell how Chipotle’s “pause” will impact the business overall and the relationships they have with customers. If the number of people on social media who enthusiastically shared the free burrito coupon offer is any indication, it seems many customers are more than willing to give them another chance.

The strategy of “pausing to move forward” is not just for large coffee chains and restaurants. Any company, big or small, can choose to “pause” the business for a short time to focus, engage, energize, and prioritize.

Here are some questions to help you think about how a “pause” strategy could positively impact your organization:

  1. How could this “pause” change our customer’s perception of us?
  2. What message do we want to send to our employees?
  3. What would “pausing” cost our organization? What could it cost our organization if we don’t “pause”?
  4. What message could “pausing” send to our industry?
  5. What opportunity could we harness in combination with this “pause” to better our community or reflect our values?