Kornel Grygo, CEO of Tasty Catering, is not panicking.
Despite being in an industry hit hard by the global pandemic, many of the decisions he’s made over the last few months have been surprisingly easy.
Kornel may only be a year into his role as CEO, but he’s no stranger to Small Giants-style leadership. Tasty Catering has long been an exemplary Small Giant company and its founder, Tom Walter, is a respected expert in purpose-driven leadership. As Kornel worked his way up from delivery driver to Chief Revenue Officer, he was also learning what it means to be a Small Giant.
Before stepping into his new role as Tasty’s CEO in 2019, Kornel completed a leadership certification program with the Small Giants Community. He was prepared to lead, but he certainly didn’t expect everything he’d learned to be put to the test so soon.
“This is when culture and leadership get tested,” says Kornel. “Businesses that are in this for the right reasons rise to the top. We’re a people-focused company, and we’re always going to put our people – our employees, their families, and our community — first.”
In normal times, purpose-driven processes create positive cultures and thriving businesses. In turbulent times, those same processes save companies, maintain livelihoods and lift up communities. Tasty Catering is a company that should’ve been forced to close its doors by now. But thanks to its foundation as a purpose-driven company, it’s thriving.
Here are three aspects of purpose-driven leadership to lean into now to endure this crisis and prepare for what lies ahead.
Transparency builds trust and combats fear
When there’s bad news in the workplace, purpose-driven leaders combat fear and misinformation with transparency, facts, and education. Tasty Catering is an open-book management company, so all team members understand the company’s finances and they’re used to taking charge to solve problems.
This situation was no different: Kornel took the position that the more everyone knows, the more they can help out. From company financials to up-to-date information on the pandemic, the leadership team communicates with the entire team on a daily basis.
“Communication is critical,” says Kornel. “There was a lot of fear and uncertainty at first, but we have a lot of trust here. We’re open and honest with everyone: we will be here, we’re going to take care of you, day by day.”
The pandemic hit food businesses particularly hard, and by now, many of Tasty Catering’s competitors have closed up shop. Kornel had every reason to do the same — when Illinois’s stay-at-home order went into place, their catering business dried up nearly overnight. But the leadership team didn’t even consider it.
“People depend on Tasty Catering for their livelihoods,” says Kornel. “It’s not just about us — it’s our families, our communities, and our partners. They built this company, and at the end of the day, we want to take care of them.”
Tasty Catering has nearly 200 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, and they haven’t laid off a single person. Salaried team members are taking a ten percent pay cut, and full-time hourly workers are guaranteed at least twenty hours per week. Because they practice open-book management, every single team member understands why this decision was made, and it isn’t about making money.
Staying open serves team members, but it also means they can keep delivering to essential workers who are in critical need of safe, nutritious meals. Their team is sticking together and working as hard as ever.
“Sure, we’re losing a little by staying open — but we’re taking care of our people and our community,” says Kornel. “We’re living our core values, and our team members are telling us that it feels good. We’re becoming a stronger, more innovative team. There’s no opportunity greater than that.”
Vulnerable, honest leadership inspires team members to step up
When Tasty’s event catering stopped, it was all hands on deck to come up with new ideas for generating revenue. Tasty has a culture of ownership, meaning every employee is informed and empowered to make decisions for the company. The leadership team gives daily updates to all remote team members and the on-site production team, and they’re always open and honest about what they know — and what they don’t.
“We’ve always operated this way,” says Kornel. “Being honest about not having the answers inspires team members to help. Outside-the-box thinking is critical, and our team is rolling up their sleeves and figuring out what we need to do to keep Tasty Catering going.”
Early on, one team member raised their hand to suggest boxed-meal and individual hot meal delivery. It was a safer option and bound to make people feel more comfortable. The sales team hit the phones and started calling all of Tasty’s connections to find out who was still working and might need meal delivery. They were each making up to 50 calls a day and uncovering opportunities to feed essential workers — from members of the National Guard working at a pop-up hospital to children receiving meals through Chicago Public Schools.
“It all comes back to the relationships we have,” says Kornel. “Combine that with extreme teamwork, and we were able to identify a need that allows us to live our core purpose. Everyone is putting their full effort into coming up with new ideas and innovation.”
The innovation is streaming in from all levels. On their way back from deliveries, Tasty drivers are pulling over to take notes on which office parking lots are full of cars and may need meal delivery. Everyone on the team is calling each and other and sharing leads.
“That’s the success of our mission and culture at work,” says Kornel.
Listen to your people to creatively plan for the future
By sticking together as a team, Tasty now has the time and brain power to strategically position the company to bounce back when the stay-at-home order is lifted. Kornel is using this time to inspire his team to think about what food service will look like as the economy reopens. Sixty percent of Tasty’s business is events with staff on-site, and it will be critical to adopt different styles of service.
“We don’t have the answers, so we’re listening to our people,” says Kornel. “We don’t want to box ourselves into one service, so we’re using this time to be proactive and think creatively.”
Thanks to ideas from the team and input from their partners, Tasty has already started making plans for new ways to safely serve their customers at in-person events. Along with their meal delivery service, Tasty is planning for boxed and individual meals for events. They cater many corporate outdoor picnics, and one team member came up with the idea of an on-site team to cook and box individual meals. Other team members are already at work building sneeze guards and prepping their kitchen for large-scale, individual meal orders.
“We’re ready to go,” says Kornel. “We’re not tied down to one thing. We’re two steps ahead of our competitors. We’ve got time, so let’s try some new things. We’re not just going to make it through this — we’re going to come out even better than before.”
Read more stories about how purpose-driven business leaders are navigating this time and stepping up.