Chick-Fil-A's Timeless Lesson on Leadership

Chick-Fil-A's Timeless Lesson on Leadership

PAIN TO PROFIT$: February Newsletter  

Last month we hosted the Xcelerated Leaders Summit event with 50 local entrepreneurs and leaders.  Here is a summarized version of my leadership talk from the event in case you miss it or want to refresh your memory.

In 1967 S. Truett Cathy founded the very first Chick-fil-A in Atlanta Georgia. Today Chick-fil-A has the highest same-store sales and is the largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the entire United States on an annual system sales-wide basis. For the last 56 years,  year over year, through seven recessions, in fast food, which could be considered one of the hardest industries in which to attract and retain well-qualified talent, they have somehow managed to increase revenue, every single year, year over year, while simultaneously being an openly Christian company, who is most well known for being closed on Sundays.

Did you know Chick-Fil-A makes more money than McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Subway combined?

How do you do that?

For the last 40 years, most businesses have been focused on three (3) things:

  • Production = Speed & bottom line
  • Customer-Centric Product Lead Growth = What is best for the customer regardless of how it affects our employees or their time.
  • Replaceable Autocratic Leadership = if they don’t want to do it, we will find someone else who will.

But not Chick-Fil-A! While everyone else has been playing checkers, Chick-Fil-A has been playing Chess.

They know that production, customer-centric, and replaceable people are not long-term business strategies.  They understand one thing that most business owners do not: People are giving you their most precious resource-their time.

For the last 56 years, Chick-Fil-A has been focused on building one of the best company cultures in the world. As a result, they get better production, customer experience, and loyalty. I'm not talking about branded t-shirts, ping pong tables, beer on Fridays and cliché sayings, or pride in the work you do.

Culture is not what you do, it's who you are. If you have to say it, then it's not culture.

Do realize that if Chick-fil-A simply decided to open their doors on Sunday, increasing production by 13%, at their current size and scale, they would add $650m to their topline Revenue. But they don’t do it! They don’t do it because it goes against their values; i.e. culture. And more importantly, it would break the trust of their tribe. Instead, they focus on these 3 things:

  • Values-Driven Growth:  How you do anything, is how you do everything. People are deciding to work for you because their values align with your values. If you go against your values, there is a ripple effect that cannot be quantified. Trust is like a forest. It takes years to build, and only seconds to burn it down.
  • Employee Centric: People don’t work for you because they have to. They work for you because they want to.  They choose to give us their time. Cathy, of Chick-Fil-A, always said he wasn't in the chicken business; he was in the people business. For him, it wasn't just about revenue -- it was about encouraging and supporting others. With so many options available to the workforce, we must remember that our vibe attracts our tribe.  Every decision must be held up to your values.  
  • Irreplaceable People: It’s so easy to let our ego get in the way of our leadership.  But the market has shifted and this is no longer an employer's market →  It is an employee’s market.  They have options. They don’t work for you; you work for them. They don’t need you, you need them.  So you better be doing everything in your power to make their life better by way of people, processes, and systems.  Chick-Fil-A has a process for everything and they leverage technology to make their employee's experience better, more efficient, and less stressful.

Ever been through a busy Chick-Fil-A drive-through?  That could be an extremely stressful experience for the employee, especially when they are getting paid a little bit above minimum wage. But their process and technology make it a breeze. Combine that with a simple menu that hasn't changed for 10 years and you have a recipe for happier employees, who know the product like the back of their hand. In turn, a happier team will take better care of the customer by living up to the core values they were hired for.  

At this point you may be thinking, what's in it for me?

Everyone wants to know the tangible ROI of tripling down on culture, values, and the employees' quality of life. Unfortunately, this is not a number you can plug into a financial model. But I can tell you the price of allegiance is intangible, the pride in a job well done and fulfillment in one's work is palpable. If you don't believe me just walk into any Chick-Fil-A. Watch a team of minimum wage workers thriving, happy, and crushing it.

I have never met a truly happy employee who doesn’t work longer, harder, more efficiently, take care of the customer better, recruit more people to work for you, and ultimately drive more revenue.  Because a better culture makes your employees feel like the time they spend, day in and day out, matters.

So are you making the work that you do Matter?

The famous Chick Fil A statement, It’s My Pleasure, explains that creating an intentional, compelling culture begins with understanding the company’s purpose.

Why does the company exist? What motivates it?

This is what our employees are buying. And every time we break their trust they question what we value.

Money? Status? Power?

From the start, Truett Cathy based his company on Biblical principles and operated in a servant-leadership style long before it was called that.

Literally, their company purpose explicitly states this:

“To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”

Every single leader reading this article has an opportunity to make an immense impact in the lives of those whom they lead. I am simply reminding you,

That to whom much is given, much is expected.  And a life of servant hood cannot be rejected.

We are not allowed to call ourselves entrepreneurs or leaders if we are unwilling to make the lives of ALL whom we come in contact with better.  If we want to build a thriving company, then we have to build an irresistible, employee-centric, values-lead company. And we do that by tripling down on Culture.  



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