Quick-change artist Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008
When Ted Abrams joined the team at Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Co. in 2001, the Tampa company was in bad financial shape.

“When I came in, I eliminated the retail operations that the company currently owned and operated, except for the kiosks at Disney World,” says the co-owner, president and CEO. “I changed our focus and our core strategy from retail and operating coffee shops to wholesale.”

By encouraging quick communication among the management team, Abrams brought Joffrey’s out of financial hardship. Today, the company has 115 employees and posted 2007 revenue of $10.7 million.

Smart Business spoke with Abrams about how communicating with speed can facilitate a successful turnaround.

Q. How should a leader approach a turnaround?

Don’t be afraid to make change within the organization; change is good. In any turnaround situation, some people are willing and able to accept the change, and others just can’t.

Everybody’s got to be on the same path at all times, and they’ve got to be able to buy in to the vision and the strategy. If not, then it’s not going to work.

Laying out the strategy has to be done very quickly in the beginning, and then it has to be communicated on a continuous basis. You can’t just lay it out one time and then walk away from it.

There is a lot of micromanagement that has to be done, but it’s being done in a communicative way that will create the buy-in from your management team, and at the same time, it allows them to gain confidence in you. You take little baby steps along the way and then very quickly communicate the successes as you come upon them because your team will begin to see that the strategy is working.

It gives further solidification to the buy-in to your strategy and vision for turning your company around.

Q. How do you communicate your turnaround strategy?

Recognize what the company’s strengths and weaknesses are. Put a plan in place around those strengths and eliminate those weaknesses.

Meet with your direct reports multiple times a week. Make sure that when there are specific tasks that need to be done, you’re sitting down one-on-one with your management team and laying out their responsibilities and their functional roles on a day-to-day basis. If there are too many things thrown at them all at once, they’ll get overwhelmed, and the execution will inevitably fail.

Focus on the low-hanging fruit: What are the things that can quickly be identified as weaknesses, and then how do you very quickly execute to eliminate them from your business model? You sit down with each individual, communicate that to them and make sure that they completely understand.

Get feedback and input from them. Employees who have been doing their job for quite some time may get tunnel vision — but they still are able to see certain little golden nuggets that you may be overlooking.

Moving quickly provides some form of comfort: We are going to be OK, and we’re beginning to see the fruits of our labor. You can have the best execution plan in the world and can execute against it, but if you don’t celebrate the successes along the way, then it can break down very quickly.

When we executed something and saw it was working, it was discussed openly throughout the organization.

We did little things that really didn’t cost the company all that much — brought in pizza or ice cream at the end of the day. We would all come together as a complete team and talk about what was done and what worked, and it created additional energies for that next strategic piece that we needed to accomplish.

Q. What is the CEO’s role in the communication process?

You definitely want to listen and seek input from the people that report to you because it shows that you care about them. You’re interested in hearing what they have to say.

They have to feel that you have their best interests at heart, and, at the same time, they know that they can come to you to talk about anything. You need to be the absolute champion of the cause at hand. I sit down one on one and just ask, ‘What do you think would work? What have you seen in the past that hasn’t worked?’

By allowing them to provide their input — and then there’s feedback coming back from you — you work together to ultimately come up with what’s going to be the best strategy. It provides the best form of execution, if right upfront, you’ve got their buy-in.

Your job is to keep people focused to task and continuously communicate the successes. When something is not going as planned, you very quickly have the conversations with the team and the individual responsible for that particular facet to see where you’re going awry and what you can do to get back on track.

HOW TO REACH: Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Co., (800) 458-5282 or www.joffreys.com