Wheat Ridge Cyclery and Leadership Accountability


Wheat Ridge Cyclery, a legendary bike shop in Colorado, was a family-run business with a heap of leadership problems. There were problems in getting behind one leader, along with accountability and mission creep issues.

The company started as a tiny 400-square foot outfit in the 1970s. Now they occupy almost a whole city block in Creekridge, Colorado, with a 30,000-square foot shop, a mecca for cyclists.

People drive three or four hours past hundreds of other bike shops to go to Wheat Ridge Cyclery because it’s such unique experience.

But they began running to family leadership problems. There was a leadership vacuum with people in two different camps. Because of a power struggle in the family, the company had two leaders instead of one. Their traffic and sales conversions were down. Morale was low and they came to me for help.

There was no consistency in the leadership. Not only does every individual leader need to provide consistent leadership to their people, they also need to show a united front and be on the same page. If not, the company is not being run with clarity.

Here is what Ron Keifel has to say:

My dad ran the company from 1973, then my brother-in-law Gil ran it for 14 years, and I’ve taken over since 2008. The problem was that the ownership group was forcing decisions onto the management group, and some of those decisions were off-base because the owners weren’t in the day-to-day trenches of the business.

Chris has held out feet to the fire and we’ve made some changes that we would never have made without his help. For example, we took our management group down from 10 to 6, including myself. Chris helped us sketch out the idea of what an accountability chart could look like and really helped us streamline leadership in the organization. 

Since we started the process, 40% of our management team changed over a two-year period. That was a pretty significant personnel change and it was uncomfortable at first, but as we saw the fruits of those changes we became more confident in our ability to assess people in their roles. We were quicker to make a decision and say, “You aren’t the right person for this company.” We’ve been getting the right people on our team and it’s been really healthy for our company. 

In terms of accountability, each employee has a number or a measure that they’re accountable for. On our accountability chart, we’ve defined the measures for each seat.

We have a better sense that things are getting done and being followed; we can monitor our business better and we’ve become a healthier company.  When people know what they’re measured on and it’s the right measure, they do really well and they’re successful.

We also created some pretty audacious goals that Chris helped us meet.

Working with Chris, we’re getting better at understanding the relationship between the Board of Directors and the management team.  The management team is in charge of day-to-day operations, which is measured through scorecards and other tools, and the Board of Directors has the fiduciary responsibility. The Board doesn’t need to decide what models we carry on the floor.  Their obligation is financial oversight and the management team is responsible for meeting day-to-day goals. Before we worked with Chris, we couldn’t make that distinction.

Chris has allowed us to set these pretty big rocks and to fail at them the first few times. We learned from our mistakes. When you don’t accomplish some things, you learn what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. 

Because of his military training, Chris always brings real world discussions and solutions to any problems we face. He likes to quote General Patton: “An okay plan violently executed today is far superior to a great decision two weeks from now.” He kept urging us to be decisive about making decisions and to move forward. That was important for the company and especially important for me because I tend to want to make the perfect decision, which often took a long time. So we’ve learned to make a decision and then monitor and adjust it if it isn’t a perfect move. That’s been a real powerful change in my leadership style that Chris brought to the table. 

Chris also helped me learn to control meetings. I learned how far to give people rope and when to cut things off, to make sure that we were getting through the right things and not heading down too many rabbit holes. I learned how to call people out on their BS. We’re able to say to each other, “You know, there’s something wrong with that” or “I don’t like the way that’s said.”  We’re much more open and honest with each other, and as a result, we’re much closer. And that’s because my leadership style has changed.

Now Ron is the sole leader of that organization. Having the right leaders and getting rid of the wrong leaders is super important. Wheat Ridge Cyclery is a really good example of how changing the dynamic of the leadership team can lead to transformational change. Today the company has an engaged and open culture and is executing at a much better level than in the past.

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