James White’s keys to innovation

It takes a true innovative leader — a master innovator — to recognize when change is needed and embrace it when others in his or her shoes might just turn and run.

When James White assumed the helm at Jamba Inc. on Dec. 1, 2008, nothing was certain except the need to recover from a sales slump, which White understood would require a significant change in direction.

Most leaders in his position would have focused exclusively on implementing a financial turnaround, tightening the purse strings and flattening the organization. But White knew better. He realized too much focus on traditional cost-cutting strategies risked overlooking Jamba’s formula for success — the aspects of the company that had previously won fans and generated sales.

White knew he needed a strategy that balanced the company’s need for streamlined operations with a plan that leveraged its core strengths and preserved its distinctive company personality.

Learning from success

Jamba, which does business under the name Jamba Juice at its locations nationwide, built a history as a high-engagement company that involved employees at all levels in carrying out Jamba’s mission and strategies.

White recognized that Jamba’s high rate of customer satisfaction and brand loyalty was a direct result of the commitment of the front-line work force. But he also understood that some of this engagement had been lost during a period of uncertainty and financial crisis. It was this cultural shift that created a direct, negative impact on the performance of the individual stores, which is why White decided that any successful turnaround strategy would need to include involvement.

He assigned Senior Vice President Steve Adkins to lead the initiative to recapture the company’s strength.

“We needed to demonstrate engagement, energizing others to go beyond our past,” Adkins says. “In order to execute the changes being made to our operational structure and marketing strategies, we needed to equip the employees, namely the store and shift managers, with the leadership behaviors to lead their stores through the changes.”

White also knew time was his enemy. And that’s when he hired our firm, Bright Side, to help transform him and his organization into masters of innovative change.

Increasing awareness; identifying gaps

At White’s direction, we started working with Adkins and the operations leadership team. Together, we defined the company’s current state, envisioned a future state and identified the gaps that kept Jamba from achieving its aspirational targets. White tasked his leadership team with looking for the personal behaviors that kept them from achieving the future state.

It was here that many on the leadership team became aware of their uninspiring leadership style and realized the need to re-establish their level of engagement with the work force. How could store employees be expected to live the vibrancy of the Jamba brand if their leaders lacked energy?

Although unfamiliar and somewhat uncomfortable, White’s management team embraced this new behavioral imperative. They let their enthusiasm for the possibilities cascade through the business.

“The energy I was displaying was contagious,” Adkins says.

Simplify the message

With White’s innovation mandate as the guide, the management team let this new vitality permeate not only the informal communications within the company but also the “Excellence Program: Recipe for Inclusion,” in-store operating manual.

Using bold images, the operations team communicated tactical aspects of the turnaround strategy, which included new product launches, refined marketing messages and a reduction in store expenses. Visually, the company communicated their new action-oriented philosophy.

Enable accountability through ownership

To build sales, store managers were shifted from being order-takers to active participants in the customer’s experience. Instead of telling the managers precisely how to carry out this initiative, managers were empowered with the creative freedom to execute.

Store managers responded with energy and enthusiasm. Managers initiated suggestive selling. They began educating customers on new menu items and recommending complementary products. More significantly, they modeled these behaviors for their store employees. Employees were encouraged to develop their own approach to engaging the customer and coached on opportunities they may have missed, such as preparing a loyal customer’s order before they reached the front door.

By communicating confidence, the managers responded by owning the strategies they developed and taking personal accountability for the results.

The results of innovation

White’s innovation paid off. Jamba Juice leveraged its core strength — a highly engaged work force — and used it to build a companywide culture that was invested in the development and successful execution of the new company strategies.

Since 2009, Jamba has experienced a true turnaround, enjoying positive results across the business:

• Store ratings have increased by double-digit percentages in service, quality and overall customer experience

• Brand awareness has increased significantly

• Product launch times have been cut by 50 percent

How to reach:  Jamba Inc., (510) 596-0100 or www.jamba.com

Donna Rae Smith is founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc. Reach her at (440) 543-1800, [email protected] or www.bright-side.com.