How Marco’s Pizza Uses Company Culture as Its Strategy
How Marco’s Pizza Uses Company Culture as Its Strategy

At Marco’s Pizza, they cultivate a culture that helps their business grow—despite the evolving pizza industry landscape.

When it comes to defining your company’s culture, you have two options. You can allow culture to emerge naturally through autopilot patterns of interaction between team members and work groups. Or, you can consciously choose to create, maintain and reinforce elements of an effective company culture—setting your team on course to achieve their goals and key results.

For Bryon Stephen, the President and Chief Operations Officer for Marco’s Pizza, he chose the latter.

“There’s a culture that exists in every organization, but it can either work for you or against you. It’s up to you to cultivate, mold and establish a culture that helps your business grow,” Stephens said.

In 2013, Marco’s Pizza began consciously transforming the company’s work culture, placing a strong emphasis on creating greater accountability, transparency and results. The goal was to influence every single person at the company—from C-Suite executives to franchisees to frontline workers. Stephens has been a key figure in this effort from the beginning, and he believes that the results of this company-wide cultural shift are starting to move the brand forward in a significant way.

For starters, Marco’s is growing at a vigorous pace, with a five-year annual growth rate of more than 30 percent.

“We were a couple-hundred-store chain just a few years ago. We’re over 600 stores now, and we’ve more than doubled in size in the last 36 months. We expect to double again in the next 36 months,” Stephens said.

Stephens is adamant about his role—it’s one where he’s laser-focused on bringing a culture of accountability to Marco’s as a means to drive results. It’s a method that he has adopted from the book “The Oz Principle,” and it defines accountability as a personal choice to rise above your circumstances and demonstrate the personal ownership necessary to achieve your key results.

That’s the simplified definition. What that breaks down to is a company culture where every single person in the organization owns everything there is to own. There’s no blaming others. And they don’t cover their own tracks when things aren’t going right. For Stephens, it’s about making sure that anytime there’s something that goes wrong, it doesn’t serve as a setback. Instead, his team is committed to taking whatever action is necessary to resolve issues that come up.

“Everybody in the Marco’s Pizza organization has the power to be a part of this commitment. We are unified in our quest, and we’re all focused on spending our time and efforts driving activities that will achieve our key results,” Stephens said. “It’s hard to stay focused in today’s world. We are all so busy, have many priorities, and are constantly bombarded with messages competing for our attention. Getting everybody focused on what’s really important and then having a cascade of accountability going through our organization is really a big accomplishment. We’ve been able to create a team of people who know what they need to accomplish in order to win, and we’re all working toward this one cause of making Marco’s Pizza the brand of choice, the employer of choice, and the business partner of choice in every market we serve.”

Marco’s Pizza wasn’t always run this way. In fact, Stephens isn’t afraid to admit that every great breakthrough is precipitated by a breakdown. For Stephens, that moment came when he was suddenly put face-to-face with disgruntled franchisees. Unsatisfied with the brand’s current POS system, they demanded change. And that’s when Stephens had his “a-ha” moment—it was time to transform the game, transform the culture and learn to be a better listener.

“You need to focus on your people to get real results. People are the cornerstone of making great things happen,” Stephens said. “You need to do whatever it takes to get your entire organization bought-in and invested.”

At Marco’s Pizza, culture is strategy—and it’s having a meaningful impact. Stephens shares one franchisee’s story as an example. One of the brand’s longest-term franchisees had gone dormant for the past 25 years. He had nine stores, but he had built nothing new for a long time. But now, as this culture of accountability takes hold, he decided to wake up and build two more stores.

“Things like this are happening because of everything we’ve put in place. We’re reawakening franchisees by focusing on what is important to them. Growth is everybody’s job at Marco’s,” Stephens said.