In thought-leadership speak, you hear a lot about the word "authenticity" and the need for more "authentic" leaders. But what does that mean, exactly? 

What I've observed and studied about authentic leaders is that they live, lead, and work through their values. They show up daily with integrity and with their true selves because such behavior creates a level of trust and respect from employees that cannot be replicated by "wearing a mask."

To support what I write, speak, and model in my own leadership practice, I'm always on the lookout for successful leaders championing authenticity. This time around, I connected with Smoothie King CEO Wan Kim. (it also delighted me to cover this story since I typically gulp down a 20 oz Daily Warrior about every morning before work) 

When Kim took over as CEO in 2012 after being a master franchisee in South Korea where he developed more than 130 Smoothie King stores, he made it his mission to bring Smoothie King back to its health-conscious roots and maintain that vision over the long term.

Since Kim took the helm, Smoothie King has opened an average of 100 stores per year for the last three years and had a record-setting 2018--opening more locations than in any single year of the franchise's 46-year history.

So what's the magic formula for Kim? As it turns out, it's pretty simple and replicable for any organization.

Every decision comes down to 1 question

Kim started asking the only question worth asking when he needed to make decisions for the company: Will it help people live healthier, more active lives?

Kim implemented the one question filter-test to ensure the brand never missed the mark when it came to making decisions on new initiatives, product innovation, partnerships, what franchisees they welcome into the system, and more.

As Kim saw it, Smoothie King wasn't going to simply sell smoothies, but rather its purpose was to serve others and inspire people to live active and healthy lifestyles. Now that's authenticity.

Using that one crucial question has translated into a number of initiatives at every level of the franchise: from the sit-to-stand desks and on-site gym memberships for corporate employees to the fresh and nutritious ingredients that go into the smoothies, and everything else in-between.

If a proposed initiative, campaign, partnership, prospective franchisee or anything else doesn't contribute to the mission of "helping people live healthier, more active lives," it's scrapped.

Intrigued by this simple-but-strategic filter, I sat down with Kim to explore how one question helped streamline the franchise's decision-making process and allowed for the company and its consumers to rally around a unified belief.

Here are the highlights of our conversation (edited for length).

What was the inspiration behind the one-question filter test? 

The inspiration was our guests. If we were going to become the brand people thought of when they wanted to accomplish their health and fitness goals, we needed a more deliberate method for making decisions; we didn't want to leave anything up to chance.

We began asking ourselves, "how can we simplify the process of making decisions at every level of the franchise--from the leadership suite to behind the register--to effectively provide the positive-and-repeatable guest experience we were aiming for?"

That's when we came up with the question, "will it help people live healthy, active lives?" This filter keeps the guests and their experience at the forefront and allows our brand to make more health-conscious decisions that better complement their lifestyles.

How does it simplify the process of leading your people?

I wanted this company to be more than me. I want my team to make decisions not based on what I like or want, but based on our mission and vision...I want them to have an answer before they even ask me. For example, if the R&D Team wants to create a new smoothie, I don't want them to think, "I hope Wan likes this." Rather, I want them to say, "does this new product inspire people to live a healthy and active lifestyle?" 

How does the question help with your hiring or franchisee-selection strategy?  

At Smoothie King, we're seeking franchisees who have a genuine connection with our brand, its mission and vision. By asking, "will it help people live healthy, active lives," we're producing answers that directly reflect our core values and, consequently, attract prospects who share the same sentiments.

How does the one-question filter help you stay in integrity when making touch decisions?

Before we introduced our Clean Blends initiative last year--which emphasizes the use of more whole fruits and vegetables and no artificial preservatives, flavors, colors, or other harmful ingredients on our "No No List"--we ran it through the one-question filter test. Clearly, this made sense for our brand because it showcases our authenticity and commitment to our mission and vision. It also displays integrity for the product and concern for our guests as it relates to the ingredients we're putting inside our smoothies to help fuel their health and fitness journeys.  

Does a similar filtering question work for other brands? 

No matter if you're a smoothie franchise or tech company, you can design a simple, one-question filter to help guide your decision making.

At the end of the day, it's about understanding what you're trying to accomplish as a brand, usually defined by your mission, and weighing the business costs and benefits. A one-question filter test could help other companies in making decisions that are aligned with both their mission and economics--it's just a matter of determining what those are.

The question becomes an easy reference point by which everyone understands what the company is trying to accomplish. It attracts like-minded individuals, sifts out those that don't agree and produces actions that support your goals.