Recently I stopped for lunch at one of the D.C. locations of Sweetgreen, and it got me thinking about how a company’s corporate culture and environment plays a critical role in its success. The salad chain launched in D.C. in 2007 and, over the past 10 years, it has grown to 87 locations nationwide, according to Bloomberg, with the goal of reaching almost 100 locations by the end of the year. That kind of growth doesn’t happen by accident.
If you haven’t been to one of their restaurants, you walk into a minimally decorated space, with clear glass as the only thing standing between you and the ingredients. In the background, you can see staff members prepping ingredients for the next batch of salads and bowls. Next to their menu hangs a list of where each of their ingredients has come from. The staff is friendly and checkout is efficient — they don’t accept cash, only credit card or payments through their app, so the transactions are quick.
What do these things have to do with Sweetgreen’s success and what lessons can you take and apply to your business? In my work with leaders and groups, I’ve found three “ways of being” that are necessary for achieving peak performance in an organization, and I see examples of each at Sweetgreen.
Do what you say, always.
Peak performance cultures embody integrity. What I mean by integrity is that when you say you’re going to do something, you do it. Peak performance teams can count on one another and trust that the things their team members commit to will get done. It also means that customers can count on you to do what you say.
Integrity lends itself to transparency, a key component of Sweetgreen’s mission. They tell customers where they source their ingredients, and they redesigned their restaurants so that customers could see food being prepared in the kitchen. This builds immense trust with your customers and creates loyalty.
If you want to get what you want, you have to be really clear on what that is, and everything you do has to be focused on that. You need to create what Dan Coyle calls in his book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups a “high-purpose environment.” Everyone in your organization should be an expert on your company’s purpose and values, and you should communicate them consistently to both employees and your customers.
At Sweetgreen, their mission, as dictated on their website, is to “inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.” Walk into one of their stores and you’ll probably see “passion x purpose” written on the wall or on employees’ t-shirts, or even in a mosaic on the floor, creating a visual reminder of their mission. They also post their five values in every location’s kitchen. They are sending a clear, continuous message to their employees and customers about what they stand for and what they’re trying to do.
Being persistent means sticking with your goal or vision until you achieve your outcome. This may mean changing course a few times, adopting initiatives or leaving ones behind that aren’t getting you where you need to go. But you need to maintain a relentless focus on your goal.
For Sweetgreen, this means leveraging the latest tech to keep their business growing. They launched an app in 2013, and by the end of the year, they expect that over half of their orders will be placed through it. It helped them remove cash from their checkout process, and the online ordering function provides them with valuable data about what ingredients customers love and what they can do without. They can use this information to continue to hone their offerings and focus on what their customers want. It also keeps the company on the cutting edge and constantly connected to their customers.
So if you’re looking for ways to learn from Sweetgreen’s success and reach peak performance in your own company, think about how you can introduce or strengthen each of these elements — living and working with integrity, being intentional, and always persisting. No matter your company’s vision or goals, your success depends on them.
First posted on Inc.com