Making elephants jump

Gary - 30 th October 2015

Mitchells and Butlers has 1700 sites, many are to die for. They operate some fabulous brands such as Browns, All Bar One and Toby Carvery that are woven into the social fabric. I have never had a bad experience at any of their pubs, (except aged 21 in suburban Manchester, but that’s for another day).  They recently announced that like for like sales growth for the first 50 weeks of the year had risen by just 1% for the 3rd year running and in the past 7 weeks sales have turned negative, declining by 0.75. The results cost the CEO his job.

In the subsequent analysis I was struck by a phrase from Mark Brumby at Langton Capital. Mr Brumby, explaining in a nutshell what he perceived to be the root of problem, stated that ‘it is hard to make an elephant jump’. Whilst calling M&B an elephant is bit derogatory, I understand what he means. Being big, I mean really big, like M&B, means that adapting to change is a massive, massive challenge and sometimes it is asking the impossible. You can be cigarette paper close to your customers, stress flexibility and nimbleness as much as you like in your values and be set up for change but if you are big, really big, jumping can be very difficult… but surely not impossible.

So how do you make the elephant jump? Here are a six thoughts, (I’d be keen to add yours!).

From the top: Surely inspiring leadership is key. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that undefinable quality of ‘charisma’. I mean leading with vision and action, having courage and being consistent. Have a look at Jim Collins’ book, ‘Good to Great’. He defines what constitutes great leadership and, in a nutshell, he says that leadership can be inspirational without being charismatic (that gives me hope!) and consistency and clarity are key.

Inspiring vision and valuesI have seen all sorts of corporate ‘visions’ and sets of values and, though I am loathed to admit it, most are the same. In fact, if you cover the brand up and try and guess whose vision and values belong to whom you wouldn’t have a clue. They are safe or use over intellectual language or don’t stretch an organisation. The best visions are simple, stretching, customer facing, truly differentiating and use normal language. The really great ones become every day mantras.

Embed the vision. This has to happen. So often the vision and values are written on a mouse mat and sent around the company in the wistful hope that things will change. It never works. If the vision and values are embedded in the Customer Experience at every touchpoint (well, at least the ones that matter) then change will happen. That elephant will jump.

Measure the right things. There will 5 or 6 big things that need to happen to make the elephant jump. Progress should be measured regularly in a simple way so that everyone knows what is good and what is bad. Track progress and diagnose what’s happening.

Reward the jumpersThe people who make things happen and don’t just talk about it, those that stop at nothing to make the seemingly impossible happen should be rewarded, people need to see what behaviours are required to get on and when they see what it takes the good ones will jump.

Have a plan. A simple plan with responsibilities and timelines captured in two ways; one with all the details and one that captures the whole picture so that people can hold it in their heads.

So, six ways to make the elephant jump. I suppose another one is that you have to do all six, the elephant will remain rooted to the spot if you only do a few of them. Of you could always go back to the mouse mat issue. Surely that has a good chance…..I saw a mouse, where? there on the stair where on the stair? right there, a little mouse with clogs on, going clip clipitty clop on the stair!.......that should get the big grey fella moving.

On the face of it, the need to make elephants jump is not something that crops up on a daily basis. But it is key to brand success as you don't want to end up in the elephants graveyard.



Gary is the chairman and one of the original founders of Brand Vista. With over 20 years of brand experience both on the client and agency side he loves finding out what customers and consumers are really thinking and turning this knowledge into compelling brand propositions that succeed in the real world.
Find out more about Gary