Could a new leadership mindset save Pizza Express from the fire?
Read time: 4 minutes

Could a new leadership mindset save Pizza Express from the fire?

11 Oct, 2019 Read time: 4 minutes
LiveClass
Published by
Matt Richards
Leadership and Transformation Partner
LinkedIn
Inspire Inform Ignite

With a debt mountain of over £1bn, and sensationalist stories in Bloomberg and the Telegraph predicting that Pizza Express might be ‘sliced up’ and is ‘running out of dough’, Pizza Express is clearly in deep trouble.

Here we look beyond Pizza Express’s flawed strategy of excessive discounting via sites like Groupon which ate profits; beyond the rise of market re-defining competitors like Just Eat; and the change in millennial eating habits, to ask could a change in leadership mindset be key in preserving this iconic high-street brand?

In our experience, there are two key mindset shifts which may be fundamental in preventing Pizza Express following hot on the heels of the collapse of Jamie’s Italian. Without these mindset shifts, any amount of debt restructuring or tactical change is unlikely to be successful.

1. Embrace 'Future-Back' thinking'

Recently the co-founder of Singularity Universe, Diamandis, enigmatically argued that ‘you are either disrupting yourself, or someone else is – sitting still equals death.’ In disregard of this advice, Pizza Express’s business model has been built on the marginal process and recipe improvement of a format initiated over 50 years ago. This obsession around incremental gains may be successful when a market remains broadly static (like cycling and Team Sky’s incredible success under Brailsford), but simply doesn’t cut it when you have new entrants like Just Eat who are effectively bringing a motorcycle to a bike race.

Indeed, the Pizza Express model glorifies uniformity and efficiency – qualities which are laudable in a past world with limited consumer choice, but this factory-style thinking lacks freshness and appeal in a digital world where consumers have a plethora of tempting alternatives, and where dining is often focused on the search for unique eating experiences.

As leadership expert Professor Peter Hawkins argues in his report on Tomorrow’s Leadership, organisations like Pizza Express need to step out of a thinking model based on ‘the past forward’, and must now think ‘future-back’ - focusing on the eating experience of their current and ‘not-yet’ customers, informed from the future, using approaches like Three Horizons Thinking. This may involve partnering with new entertainment brands, and even the customer themselves, to produce fresh new eating experiences. As the serial entrepreneur, Heffernan states ‘partnerships today are lumbering, slow and paranoid’ and the leaders of the future need to be ‘brilliant collaborators and impresarios’.

For Pizza Express, this is likely to mean moving away from a command and control leadership approach, which ultimately celebrates uniformity, to a much more democratised or distributed model, where innovation and inspiration can be created across the organisation level. This, for any corporate, is a terrifying proposition, but in a world where customer experience is king, continuing to roll out a uniform, straight-jacket experience could be a recipe for disaster!

2. The power of choice

This thinking is not new. In some form, it dates back to Epictetus, the stoic philosopher from 50AD, who stated ‘we are not disturbed by things that happen, but by our opinions about these things’. It was championed by the holocaust survivor, psychologist and author Victor Frankl, who focused on that crucial thinking-space we have between an event and our response. A space in which we get to choose our response. As Frankl eloquently says, ‘between stimulus and response there is a space; in that space is our power to choose our response; in our response lies our growth and our freedom’. In Frankl’s prison-camp this meant though the guards could control what happened to him, even take his life, they could not control his thoughts or emotions. As a first step, Pizza Express must choose to believe in its future, so it isn’t consigned to nostalgia and the dustbin of history, but can become a thriving adaptive brand for the 2020s and beyond.

If you wish to find out more about mindset and behavioural change in the digital world, please reach out to us. We offer courses in Transformational Leadership in the Digital Age as well as bespoke learning at the Shard in London, and around the globe, run by leadership and behavioural change experts, and in partnership with AQ Revolution.

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