Fast-Food Chain’s Mission Is to Serve Customers, Community

By Nancy M. Davis Jul 5, 2012

ATLANTACharacter, chemistry and competency represent selection criteria for employees and core competencies for leaders at Chick-fil-A Inc., said Andy Lorenzen, SPHR, director of organizational effectiveness at the 1,600-restaurant Atlanta-headquartered company.

“Character” contributes when leaders make decisions, he told attendees at a session of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2012 Annual Conference, held here June 24-27, 2012. “Chemistry” reflects employees’ abilities to build and maintain relationships. “Competency” measures business acumen.

Selection and development of leaders has emerged as a critical issue for the family-owned corporation as executives gear up to double sales, expand into new U.S. markets in the next few years and go international by 2018-19, Lorenzen said.

Its simple breaded chicken sandwich on a buttered bun with two slices of pickle, beverages and side dishes brought in $4.1 billion in sales during 2011. About three-quarters of the restaurants are franchise operations. Corporate leaders currently have the opportunity to select about 80 new operators every year, but in the future they plan to open 100 to 180 new restaurants a year, he said.

Lorenzen said employees tend to “stick with” owner S. Truett Cathy. For example, Lorenzen has been with the company for 19 years. He said that restaurant crews boast a 78 percent annual retention rate—an enviable statistic when compared to that of other companies in the U.S. fast-food industry, where high turnover is common.

Well-known for his religious orientation to business, Cathy runs a debt-free company whose restaurants do not open on Sunday. Its mission statement starts with: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward for all that is entrusted to us.”

“Over the course of my time with the business, I spent a lot oftime studying our people and thinking about how to give those folks a great experience, andhow they can create a great experience for our customers, Lorenzen told attendees. We want [our employees] to have fun at work.”

On the corporate side, recruiters cull about 20,000 inquiries for the 100 corporate roles that become available each year. One SHRM member asked: “How do you keep people in the stores connected to the corporate staff?

“Every corporate staff member has to work a day in a restaurant every year,” he explained. “We bring our operators to the office a lot and ask our corporate staff to visit restaurants. Understanding the day-to-day experience of operating a restaurant is important. We say, ‘If you are not selling chicken, you better be supporting someone who is.’ ’’

Corporate leaders want restaurant crews to differentiate the customer experience—and connect with customers—by offering extra services ranging from offering dog biscuits and carrying large orders out to cars to sponsoring “daddy-daughter date nights.” He said restaurant operators train 17-year-old employees “how to read customers’ moods.” Community service remains a priority for Chick-fil-A business leaders, too.

Developing leaders is a priority with the push toward national and international expansion, Lorenzen said. “We will need thousands of leaders to support a $9 billion business by 2020.” Selection of people with character remains paramount: “Leaders can show up and do the right things, but to do so with a fractured character or with impure motives creates a hollow outcome,” he reflected.

What do great leaders do?

  • Great leaders serve.
  • See and shape the future.
  • Engage and develop others.
  • Reinvent themselves, systems and structures.
  • Live and share their values.

“We help leaders understand that one of the things God has entrusted to [them] is [their] people. When that person is with you, you have a huge responsibility to help develop” him or her, he said.

Nancy M. Davis is editor of HR Magazine.


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