When you run a business you expect it to be challenging. You expect there will be times when you have to overcome negative circumstances. You even expect to make mistakes. For Chipotle, those expectations have been met and exceeded over the past year.
You would think they would be ultra-sensitive to how they are perceived in the world and be on their best behavior. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. This past week a woman in Southern California filed suit against the fast casual chain alleging she was sexually harassed by all four of the store managers. All four.
So, what the heck is going on at Chipotle?
If you haven’t been keeping score, they have gotten hundreds of people sick, given away over $60,000,000 in free food and closed all of their restaurants while they reset their policies. The norovirus wasn’t even a thing until Chipotle was found responsible for transmitting it to their guests. Since then we have learned more about the role of POOP in making people ill at restaurants than we ever wanted to know.
After closing their stores and resetting their systems and policies we all thought, “Hey, they’ve got this.”
Well they didn’t! Another Chipotle outlet in Billerica, MA closed in early March due to an employee being diagnosed with the norovirus. The only good news for Chipotle is that there were no reports of guests taking ill as a result. The restaurant voluntarily closed and reopened a few days later after a thorough cleaning. So, all’s well that ends well, right?
Sexual harassment suit is fuel to the fire
Once again Chipotle found their way into the news when an employee filed suit this past week in California Superior Court alleging she and guests were subjected to horrible sexual harassment. Whether you take her allegations at face value or believe the managers are innocent until proven guilty, this is just the type of accusation that adds fuel to an already blazing fire.
It should also remind those of us that manage other managers, they need to be managed.
The suit claims that these managers not only acted inappropriately to the employee, but watched guests through security cameras so they could see them and make commentary. This is a systemic breakdown that shows the real problems that multiunit operations face. When an owner is not in house, it requires incredible vigilance on the part of those charged with managing the managers. The best way to combat this kind of abusive behavior is to ask the line staff what they think in an anonymous format.
Get feedback from your employees
With today’s technology, it’s easy to get that feedback. It requires a thoughtful approach to the insights. People can be petty but, as often as not, they will describe a real problem that you may never have noticed. Polling your team about how they perceive their leaders can be the difference between success and a very public lawsuit.
Leadership is a big responsibility. It’s also an ongoing concern for every organization. I hope that Chipotle treats this situation with the same urgency that they did the foodborne illness outbreaks. While they can’t be directly blamed for the horrid behavior of an isolated location, they will be judged harshly if this is only the beginning of another outbreak…this time of sexual harassment.
We are rooting for them to get it right this time.
Chipotle sign image by Mike Mozart