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It's My Pleasure a Testament to the Value of Simple Wisdom

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Chick-fil-A has long been celebrated as a company that does things a little differently. From the familiar phrase “It’s my pleasure” ringing through its restaurants to being closed on Sunday, this fast food favorite has developed one of the most powerful and distinctive cultures in American business.

Chick-fil-A Vice President Dee Ann Turner believes much of the company’s success can be found in concentrating on the small details. Instead of focusing on success at any cost, the Atlanta based company has chosen to focus on honor, dignity, and respect in everything that they do. Simply put, it’s much more than selling a tasty chicken sandwich.

I recently sat down with Turner to discuss her book, It’s My Pleasure, why Chick-fil-A is America’s favorite fast food restaurant, and why her company finds it of the highest importance to incorporate biblical principles into their business.

You have had a successful career as a corporate executive for one of the largest restaurant chains in America. I’m not sure author was on your list of career pursuits. I understand this book originated from a blog post. What inspired you to write It’s My Pleasure?

It was a combination of things that happened at the same time. I had lost the two biggest mentors in my life – my dad and Truett Cathy. Truett, of course, is the founder of Chick-fil-A. During the course of those 12 months I heard an Andy Stanley sermon about Joseph. His question in that sermon was, ‘God, what would you have me do in these circumstances?’ So, I started praying that prayer. The other part for me was I said if you say so, I will. This meant that if God told me to go meet somebody or to something I would do that. Through all of that a publisher that asked me whether I was interested in publishing a book contacted me. I told them I didn’t know. But then I poured out the first half of it while sitting on a beach over Christmas vacation. It was through that that I realized I had a lot to say. The two things that are the most important to me about it is that I wanted the people who didn’t know Truett and didn’t know his people principles to never forget them and the people who came after him would never forget them and also know. He would say, ‘We are not in the chicken business. We are in the people business.’

From a real high level, what do you think the key to success has been for Chick-fil-A over the years?

I think the single most important thing is, and Truett always said this, people decisions are the most important decisions we make. And the single most important people decision we make is who we give the key to the restaurants to. That restaurant leader, I believe with all my heart, and the consistency of the selection of those leaders and what they have done in their restaurants is to model a lot of things that Truett did with his very first restaurant. I think that is the key to the whole thing.

That leads me right into my next question. What does it take to create a compelling culture? Is there a set formula or does it differ from franchise to franchise?

I think there have been four key parts for Chick-fil-A. It all starts with knowing why you are in business at all. For Truett, the corporate purpose did not come about until Chick-fil-A had existed for about 20 years. It really came about in a time of crisis. We had hit our first sales slump ever which was in 1982. He had just opened a new Chick-fil-A campus in the southern part of Atlanta. He was heavily in debt. They were trying to figure out what they were going to do about this. Truett took his executives and went on a retreat. A lot of companies would come back with a reduction of job force plan, a new marketing plan for selling more chicken, a greater incentive plan, or a cost reduction plan. But they didn’t do that. They came back with a purpose for why we were in business at all. That is … to glorify God by being a faithful steward of everything entrusted to us and to be a positive influence on everyone who comes in contact with Chick-fil-A. That changed everything. We haven’t had a sales slump since then. In fact, we have had positive sales increases every year since. Amazing results happen when you just decide that business is something bigger than ourselves. It’s not just about selling chicken. It’s about the impact we can have on lives. Second is knowing your mission, what you are in business to do. And missions change over time. At one time, we were focused on being America’s best quick service restaurant that satisfies every guest. When we accomplished that we needed to have something new. Our current mission is really simple. Anyone can remember it. It is, “Be Remarkable”. That phrase is really important because what it really means is that we would be so remarkable in our food, service, and the guest experience that guests would want to remark about us in a positive way. Quickly, the last two are establishing your core values and lastly, a set of guiding principles.

In your book you write about nurturing an abundance mentality. Why is this important?

As a leader, I see this everyday. You can get so much more done when people don’t care who gets the credit. Or that they believe there is enough for everybody. In environments where there is a scarcity mentality you see it. People snitch behind people’s backs because somebody got a promotion and they didn’t. Or they are constantly doing things to claw their way to the top. We have tried to create a culture where there is enough for everybody. We want everybody to be wildly successful. There is a focus on the individual both at the corporate level and also among our franchisees. When everyone is successful we are all successful.

Recently, Chick-fil-A was voted America’s favorite fast food restaurant by the American Customer Satisfaction Index Restaurant Report. Earning this type of award just didn’t happen overnight. From your view, why does your restaurant have such an appeal with Americans?

I go back to what we were talking about a little while ago. Meticulous, careful selection of who receives the keys to our franchises. Truett used to say, ‘If I’m going to do this (quick service concept) I’ve got to find people who will run these restaurants like I would run them.’ He looked for people who had a heart to go into business for themselves but not necessarily the financial outlay required. He looked for people who had a servant’s heart. He looked for people who were leaders and could engage their employees and guests. He meticulously selected them and made sure everybody who did that work after him was just as careful. For instance, when I was doing corporate talent acquisition the last thing I would ask potential franchisee owners is why would I want my children to work for you? If I wouldn’t want my children to work for you then no one else would want their children to work for you. I wanted to hear that answer. That was one of the ways I used to make my decision about a franchisee on that basis. This has permeated throughout our business because Truett did it right from the start. It’s so much easier when you start your business that way. It’s the foundation for everything.

An important concept that Chick-fil-A stresses is something called Second Mile Service. I understand it is based on a biblical principle. Can you explain?

If you go back to the New Testament of Matthew, Jesus teaches, and He explains that if a Roman soldier asks you to carry his pack one mile then carry it for two. That was the premise for the whole thing. It actually came from Dan Cathy (Truett’s son), this idea of if we want to endear people to us than we have to go above and beyond the others. With first mile service, you come into our restaurant and you expect your order to be correct, you expect to receive it in a timely manner, you expect the team members to be reasonably friendly, and you expect the restaurant to be clean. But with second mile service that’s where we become remarkable. What you might not be expecting is that large orders are going to be carried out to your car for you. Or somebody is going to come by and refresh your beverage at your table. They might bring a big pepper grinder and put fresh ground pepper on your salad.

As an author, what is the one thing you want your readers to get out of reading It’s My Pleasure?

Everything we do is an opportunity to impact the lives of others. Some are called to sell chicken but that doesn’t mean we sell chicken for chicken sake. We try to impact lives all over the world. In the book, I write about some of the things we do internationally in places that have never heard of Chick-fil-A or Truett Cathy. We are impacting lives through this trickle down effect in our organization. When you commit yourself to doing something that’s impactful for generations to come I think that is much more significant and fulfilling.

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