Last week Blaine Hurst, CEO, Panera Bread on digital transformation

Panera Bread is a remarkable company where if you invested $1,000 in 1997 it would now be worth $9.7 million!

As background, Panera Bread is a bakery cafe chain operating nearly 2,100 fast casual Panera restaurants, 270 Au Bon Pain’s and employing over 130,000 associates throughout North America. In 2011, the company began the “Panera 2.0” digital transformation initiative with a single focus – to improve the guest experience – launching nationwide in 2014. With more than $100 million of investment in technology and operations, Panera redesigned how cafes and kitchens operated, created the systems and technology infrastructure to support multiple digital ordering channels including web, catering, mobile apps and in-store kiosks. Digital sales in 2018 are expected to reach $2 billion and account for a third of system-wide sales. Panera is often cited as the one of the top restaurant companies in digital.

With the mantra of “if you really want to be a transformative leader, you must be willing to get fired. If you are afraid to be wrong to make a mistake, you cannot lead transformation of any scale”, Panera’s CEO, partnering with Panera’s founder, combined restaurant acumen and a long history in technology, to reinvent the customer experience.

Blaine Hurst, Panera’s CEO shared with me the five keys to digital transformation, “There were some key learnings along the way. First, start with what matters. Seems like common sense, but too often, we don’t focus on the real objective of the digital initiative – the customer journey. Second, time really matters. Don’t boil the ocean. Architect the solution, but deliver it in iterative steps. Third, bring an elevated experience from day 1. Every iteration released to the customer, must add value for the customer. Fourth, a focused, unbridled team wins every time. Committees, working on a strategic initiative, rarely accomplish a difficult mission. Fifth, expect the unbelievers. Change is hard. Even your change sponsor will get cold feet. To deliver transformative change, you must be willing to step out, take a risk, be wrong — and fix it fast.”

Finally, Blaine encourages everyone to run the race with joy. “Digital transformation is real work, hard work. Some days it’s rewarding. But many days it’s just hard. Joy is a choice. Transformational leaders must share the joy of accomplishment all along the journey.”

Blaine Hurst joined Panera in 2010 as its Chief Transformation & Growth Officer to lead the Panera 2.0 initiative, before becoming President in 2016 and CEO and President in 2018.