38: How One Company is Getting Culture Right

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Getting the company culture right can lead to extraordinary benefits for employees, customers, and shareholders. While large companies aspire to high employee engagement and exceptional customer service, only a select few actually manage to achieve these elusive goals. Our guest is from an organization that got it right. Chick-fil-A is known for its chicken sandwiches and is at #2, behind Amazon.com on the Customer Service Hall of Fame study published by 24/7 Wall Street and Zogby Analytics. For the third year in a row, Chick-fil-A is the only fast food restaurant to ever make such a survey. Scott Overcarsh is well positioned to share the secret behind the success of Chick-fil-A. He is a senior management consultant in the leadership development program and is part of the field operations of Chick-fil-A. He has enjoyed a tremendous 40-year career building Chick-fil-A and has worked both in the stores, in the field and in headquarters. 
Listen (above) in or watch the video (below) to catch Kyle's latest interview with Scott.

Key Learnings From This Episode

  • What is the magic of the Chick-fil-A culture that has led to its 49 years of annual growth and exceptional employee engagement? The founder of the company, Truett Cathy opened a restaurant in 1946 and ran it for 20 years before he created the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich and began the chain which is now Chick-fil- A. Truett applied lessons he learned as a child growing up in his mother’s boarding home where he learned about hospitality. He often said ‘people go where they are invited, they come back where they are appreciated.’ He applied that wisdom to running his own restaurant, transferring that ‘DNA’ into the organization. He not only made his customers feel appreciated but also the team members/staff that he brought on board. 
  • How has Chick-fil-A been able to replicate its culture across many diverse locations? What are some best practices? Chick-fil-A spent a lot of time thinking about why they are in business. They often ask themselves ‘what has gotten us to where we are?’ It was important to Truett to remember the lessons learned. 

    HR Studio Podcast Quote - Scott OvercarshTruett passed in September 2014, and he left a legacy and the ‘muscle memory’ in the organization to run things the way he would run them. They have a corporate purpose which is to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to them and to have a positive influence with all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A. That purpose is the filter through which all of their decisions are run. Is it going to represent good stewardship and will there be a positive influence as an outcome of what they are about to do? That is at the heart of how they think about what they are doing as a business. They are trying to stay relevant in the marketplace but they also realize that without their customers, they would not be in business. Truett knew that, and that is why he was so adamant about being appreciative of their customers. He would say ‘you know, if we appreciate them, they will come back.’ So the things that they do are geared toward being customer focused and making sure they are having a positive influence in the work that they do. 

  • How does Chick-fil-A manage the approach at so many of these disparate locations to ensure that new employees are on-boarded and supervisors and store managers are all inculcated into the culture so that it is repeated over and over and over? The annual, individual store sales at Chick-fil-A are over $4M, which tops every other fast food restaurant, and Chick-fil-A operates only six days a week. They have shown that engaged employees and customer focus works. How do they do it?  Whenever someone joins the organization, they go through intensive training, including an orientation that includes a vision and values tour. They visit the original Dwarf House in Hapeville where the business started, touring the kitchen and learning what made that restaurant successful in its first 20 years of existence. They visit Truett’s grave site and talk about the fact that his life verse was ‘a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.’ 

    For Truett, it was not about the financial return, it was about the name that he had and the name that his company had. It was more important to do the right thing rather than to do the most financially lucrative thing. These principles are shared as people come on board. At every new store opening, they gather new team members for a team dinner. They often incorporate that with a dedication service that is geared toward helping introduce new members to the brand. ‘What makes Chick-fil-A ‘Chick-fil-A’?’ They share stories of team members who have embodied the principles and the values of the organization. They encourage and welcome new staff and make them feel like they are part of the family. When the store opens, they bring in team members with experience from all over the country who come and help train the new people. They share the history, culture, and systems on an ongoing basis every time they open a new restaurant. 

  • Scott is authoring a book (scheduled to be published in January 2018), which is a memoir of his last 40 years. The book covers the principles on which the business was founded. Truett once said that he saw no conflict between sound business practices and biblical principles that he felt were a guide to how to live life. The book traces the story of Truett and the development of Chick-fil-A’s brand, including how these principles played out over the course of the last four decades. Scott’s hope is that the book will help folks coming into Chick-fil-A in the years to come to understand how they got to where they are and will hopefully be an encouragement to others that would like to have a healthier business and maybe a happier life, and perhaps apply some of those principles to their own business and life.

Recommended Reading and References From this Episode

Scott Overcarsh HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Scott Overcarsh HR Studio Podcast Show Notes
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - 8:00am
Linda Hlavac
Scott Overcarsh
HR Studio Podcast