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Great lessons from pizza’s music man

Tom Krouse uses music and songwriting as a model for running his business.

Tom Krouse may not be a name you recognize, but Sonoma Flatbread gluten-free pizzas could be. No? Well then, let’s make it easier — try Donatos Pizza. That name likely rings bells.

This blog, however, isn’t about Krouse as president and CEO of Donatos’ 160 restaurants east of the Mississippi and 30 franchise partners. And it’s not about the frozen pizza division’s Sonoma Flatbreads sold through more than 4,000 grocery retailers nationwide.

It is about Krouse and his fascinating story of what music has taught him about running a $200 million pizza company. He’s a guitar pickin’ man, and he’s been involved in creating and performing most of his adult life — from writing songs and jamming with friends to being lead singer in a popular Ohio bluegrass band called Grassinine. He notes that they came together on a pontoon boat on Ohio’s Scioto River because they thought it would be funny to bring a gut bucket and a banjo aboard and float up and down the river trying to scare people Deliverance-style! (You can catch their next appearance July 22 at Papa Boo's at Buckeye Lake in central Ohio.)

But Krouse says music is also a big part of his business life. “The most interesting part about this,” he explains, “is that I have learned more about leadership from music than from any business strategy book I have read. Let me explain:

“We start with the concept of purpose. We spend a lot time as a leadership team talking about how best to connect with our people, inspire our teams and tap into the emotions of our customers. Similarly, songwriters spend much of their time working from this same starting point. If we could bottle music’s ability to connect to its audience on a deeper level and leverage that in our business strategies, we would have all the raving fans and fully engaged associates we could handle,” Krouse says.

What, then, are some of the techniques leaders can draw from music and songwriting? Start with repetition. In songwriting, there is a consistency. “The chorus of a song is much like the mission of your company,” Krouse contends. “How often do you talk about your mission? How simple is it? How consistent are you about how you frame it?”

Krouse illustrates the power of repetition. “If I said, ‘I wanna rock and roll all night ,’ 99 percent of the time someone would respond, ‘And party every day.’ Why? Because they’ve heard that chorus over and over.”

So Krouse asks in business, how many times does a company’s mission statement (assuming there is one) convey what is truly important about the company? He also warns against overcomplicating the mission in a failed effort to be complete and thorough. The price of that is confusion.

Another parallel to music deals with overall messaging. Krouse says the most successful organizations are ones with a clear picture of their visions and that stay focused on only a handful of initiatives to help them achieve their mission goals. Business leaders who are unable to prioritize and plan end up trying to do too many things at once and accomplish nothing. A shotgun approach to management only creates inefficiency and limited thinking. Combine that with the stress of an overworked team that’s continually missing their targets, and you have a demoralized, disengaged and exhausted organization.

“At my pizza business,” Krouse says, “we focus on one single effort: our ‘Make or Break.’ Once we have identified that primary goal, we select a handful of initiatives that all support that one goal. These initiatives are what we call our ‘Big Rocks’ [for which he credits author Stephen Covey], and we carry them through everything we do.”

Krouse uses music to explain that some of the most appealing songs are no more than three and a half minutes long, with a simple chorus (your company’s mission) repeated over and over and just three verses (your Big Rocks). It’s a huge mistake to write a plan only a few people in the company understand.

“The role of a leader is to take the complex and make it simple,” Krouse says. “No one in the organization should have to fight to figure out what the company is doing and why. Just like a popular song, the plan should be memorable and easily played back. That’s how you build engagement and ownership.”

So there is a leadership lesson in recognizing why music can be so powerful. “Wouldn’t any organization want to be characterized as compelling, memorable, focused, simple, impactful?” asks Krouse. “Just like popular music, our business strategies can be as impactful and top of mind as anything the Rolling Stones have written.”

Perhaps this is a good time to review your mission statement and how clearly your dealership team and customers receive it. 



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