CNLP 294: Dee Ann Turner on How Chick-fil-A Created Amazing Customer Service and Created a Culture That Replicated It Among Tens of Thousands of Employees and Customers

Chick-fil-A may have invented the chicken sandwich, but it’s almost equally well-known for outstanding customer service.

Dee Ann Turner, a long-time Chick-fil-A executive and vice president, explains how they got customer service to be a brand characteristic and how they replicated it among tens of thousands of often very young employees and legions of customers.

Welcome to Episode 294 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

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Dee Ann TurnerBet on Talent

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The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

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3 Insights from Dee Ann

1. Culture is the most important thing for an organization to get right

There are a ton of different ways to define a company’s culture. Dee Ann has heard all of them, and her favorite definition is, “Culture is the soul of the organization.” It is what the organization is at its deepest core. A company culture decides the identity of the organization, and that identity determines how the organization operates.

So, when Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he is absolutely right. Without a strong culture, you cannot attract and keep the people that are going to create, develop and execute that strategy. A strong culture that attracts great talent is really, really important because without a strong culture, people don’t know how to operate. Without a great culture, there is no great strategy.

2. Bad cultures are based on rules, good cultures are based on values

So, how do you identify if an organization has a good or bad culture? Dee Ann has learned that bad cultures are based on rules, and good cultures are based on values. Usually, the organizations that create a rule for every situation end up destroying their culture. Their people are no longer focusing on the mission but focusing on the rules they can’t break.

Dee Ann told a story how early on in her career, she was so brainwashed by a bad culture that she prioritized her boss’s nap over the FBI needing to talk to him. This a prime example of just how controlling and dangerous a culture is; it removes all freedom for employees to think and turns them into puppets controlled by the rulebook.

3. If you want to deeply engrain values into employees, teach them a principle, not a rule

The best company cultures are company cultures that are run by values, not rules. If an employee is driven by values that they agree with and care about, they are passionately chasing the mission and are excited to be in the room.

So, how do you get the next generation of employees excited about the strategy? You explain the ‘why’ behind the strategy. Explain that you’re in business because you have customers. Customers provide the paycheck. Customers provide the next promotion. Customers pay for the Christmas party. Customers pay for the ski outing. Customers are why you’re here. It truly becomes ‘your pleasure’ to serve. Communicate that to them in everything you do.

Quotes from Episode 294

Without a strong culture, you cannot attract and keep the people that are going to create, develop and execute the strategy. @DeeAnnTurner Click To Tweet

Culture is the soul of the organization. @DeeAnnTurner Click To Tweet

Toxic cultures are created when employees are so bound by rules that they can't exercise any judgment. @DeeAnnTurner Click To Tweet

Employees in this job market are looking for people who are willing to spend time developing them. They want to be a part of something far bigger than themselves. @DeeAnnTurner Click To Tweet

People decisions are the most important decisions a leader makes. @DeeAnnTurner Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 294

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Next Episode: Rich Birch

Has the multi-site movement peaked? What’s next for church leaders and other organizations that want to expand and add locations? Few leaders understand multi-site as well as Rich Birch, and in this interview, Rich opens his notebook on decades of lessons helping mega-churches expand, grow and reach more people.

Subscribe for free now and you won’t miss Episode 295.

CNLP 294: Dee Ann Turner on How Chick-fil-A Created Amazing Customer Service and Created a Culture That Replicated It Among Tens of Thousands of Employees and Customers

1 Comment

  1. Edward on October 3, 2019 at 12:57 pm


    this hits the nail on the head. I recently was involved in a strategic planning exercise at a church that failed because of the toxic culture there. Surprisingly, it was the committee itself that was adverse to moving into the 21st century. Their plan ended up reinforcing the outdated practices that led them to wanting to plan for the future.

    Culture does eat strategy everyday. DeeAnn Turner’s insight is one that pastors, staff, administrators, and boards need to adhere to – culture first. Not only has Chick-Fil-A proven it, the military and public safety has as well. The Marine Corps stresses from recruit training on that centralized vision, decentralized planning, and effective execution far supersedes over-control by management, especially in dynamic conditions. The Marines know the mission, their values, and adapt, overcome, and improvise to meet the objectives that can change minute by minute.

    One of the premier fire chiefs in the US, Alan Brunacini (Phoenix FD) mission statement set a simple tone and a great culture – Be Nice…to everybody! Realizing that he could not map out a plan for every incident known and unknown to man, he simply set a culture that his department followed – to go the extra mile on every response. This ended up with lawns being mowed by firefighters after the owner having a heart attack, Christmas gifts and clothes being purchased by crews after fires during that season, and smoke detector checks and service on every response.

    While vision is integral, knowledge of mission and values are the key drivers to frequently reinforce in order that the church stays viable and reliable in the crazy world to come.

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