A competitive advantage is something that sets you apart from the people you’re playing on the same field as. In any given industry, you and your competitors are doing approximately 80% of your work similarly, but that last 20% is what will put you head and shoulders above these very same competitors. The former Vice President of Marketing of Chick-Fil-A and author of Remarkable!: Maximizing Results through Value Creation, David Salyers comes in to discuss with host Jesse Cole how you can establish a competitive advantage in your business practices. In order to stand out and succeed, it’s pretty much a prerequisite to have something that makes you different from the rest of the herd. Through David’s experiences, learn how to best give yourself an edge over your competitors.
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How To Create A Remarkable Culture With David Salyers
Our guest is the former Vice President of Marketing of Chick-fil-A. He spent 37 years with the company. He’s the coauthor of Remarkable!. I am absolutely a huge fan of our guest. Please welcome David Salyers to the show.
It’s a joy to be with you. I’m a huge fan of yours. I’ve been following you on Instagram and all the things that you’re doing. Philosophically, we’re kindred spirits.
When I heard you on the EntreLeadership Podcast and read your book, Remarkable!, I immediately sent a video. I was blown away by the value that you’re adding and shown. That’s what Remarkable! is about. It’s constantly adding value. We need to put a little context into your remarkable story, Chick-fil-A, how it started, and where you are now. Share with the audience where you’ve come from to where you are.
I started as a 21-year-old kid at the University of Georgia campus. I was graduating on a Saturday morning and I started with Chick-fil-A four hours later. I graduated on Saturday morning and started Chick-fil-A that Saturday afternoon. It was nothing like the Chick-fil-A you know of now. At that time, Chick-fil-A headquarters was in a converted airfreight warehouse. It’s enough room for twenty people. When they had run a room in the warehouse, they cut a hole through the wall and pulled up a mobile home. My first office was in a mobile home attached to a warehouse, that was the Chick-fil-A that I signed up for.
It’s fascinating to me because everyone sees Chick-fil-A as this billion-dollar brand. They’re now third by volume, which is fascinating. That’s what everyone’s seeing but you started right on the ground floor. Most of the audience here is not at Chick-fil-A’s level. I’d love to hear where the company and you were going because that’s important to see that, “This can happen for anybody if you put the work effort and care about your customers more than anyone.”
What’s interesting as a 21-year-old kid, if you had asked me what a remarkable future looks like, I would’ve told you, “I’m going to go out and make as much money as I can, as fast as I can, and retire as early as I can.” I wanted to be retired by 35. I felt like if I could retire by 35, life couldn’t get any better than that. Instead, in meeting a guy, Truett Cathy, the Founder of Chick-fil-A, I went to work for Chick-fil-A, I discovered something I didn’t even realize existed in life. It was something I wouldn’t have fathomed was possible and something 1,000 times better than retiring at age 35. Do you know what I found? I found a job I wouldn’t want to retire from. It never crossed my mind that work was something to be enjoyed, rewarding, enriching and satisfying. I thought work was designed to be drudgery, avoided and to be retired from.
If my goal was to retire at 35, it meant I wanted to stop doing what I was doing by 35 or sooner. If my goal is to stop doing what I’m doing, what does that tell you about how much you’re enjoying it? You’re not enjoying it because that’s why you want to stop doing it. I remember visiting with Truett when he was in his 80s in his office and I’d say, “Truett, what are you doing here? Your 401(k) is fully funded. Why are you still here?” He said, “Why would I stop doing something I love this much? If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life.” I was at Chick-fil-A for 37 years. I’ve never worked a day in my life and I got paid anyway. That’s a pretty good deal when you can get it.
Was Truett a mentor towards you or do you have other people that led you and gave you guidance? You were young, out of college, and not even sure of what to do.
He was definitely my mentor. Most of everything I’ve learned about the business that’s of value came from him. Not only was he a mentor but he was a friend. At that time, we were so small. I went on vacation with his family. I remember going to Cancún, Mexico with him and his family. We went snowmobiling in Yellowstone Park and all these things. Early on it was small, intimate, and much like a family relationship. It’s hard to believe now looking back, in my mind, he’s a mythical character. Early on, it was a little group of us.
There’s something to be said there. We have a lot of leaders and myself that read this. You look at the bosses, and that’s such a tough word, but a mentor and a friend. How do you get to know your people? How do you know your people? I’m sure he knew you well and you knew him well. It wasn’t about, “This is what you need to do, this is about who you are and how I can help you.” I’m intrigued about the leadership and what he did from a caring standpoint. There are only two companies that I know that have outlasted their founder and grind stronger because of the vision, culture and heart. That’s Disney and Chick-fil-A. That must be powerful for what Truett put into you. I would love to know more of those intricacies that Truett brought that any leader could say, “We need to do more of this.”
If I were to try and identify what I would call the central organizing idea behind Chick-fil-A, I would find it this way, 80% of what we did and do at Chick-fil-A is exactly what our competitors did. We buy land, build buildings have drive-thrus, cash register, clean bathrooms and tables. 80% is exactly what our competitors did, but 20% of what we do is dramatically different than what our competitors do. That 20% is what makes 80% or 100% of the difference. I’m going to circle in during our time together on a few of those 20% ideas that are dramatically different than the way our competitors. I feel like it’s what you do differently that makes a difference in your results.
What do you do is this the same as everyone else makes you competitive? What do we do different is what gives you a competitive advantage in the way you see things differently. In the book Remarkable!, we talk about the way we view things, drives how we do things. That’s one of the things I’ve learned along the way. It’s the way we see something that has a dramatic impact on the way we respond to it. 80% of what we saw looked exactly the same as our competitors saw, but that 20% of what we saw is dramatically different than our competitors saw. What I want to do is dig into some of that 20%. We could get the central organizing idea that I’ve learned from Truett.
Most people start a business is what I would call a Get Rich Scheme. They start a business because they want to get rich and if they’re going to get rich, they’re going to get rich at the expense of someone. Who are they going to get rid of the expense of? Their customers, employees, suppliers and communities. It’s enriched my life at the expense of all these other lives. That’s the central organizing idea for a lot of businesses that we competed against. What Truett role-modeled and it opened my eyes to was business as a Be Rich Scheme, not a Get Rich Scheme. He said, “If I’m going to be rich, it’s the polar opposite of getting rich.” I want to be rich toward my customers, employees, suppliers and the communities that I serve. Businesses as a Be Rich Scheme is an exciting proposition. Business as a Get Rich Scheme, not so much.What you do different is what gives you a competitive advantage. Click To Tweet
No one gets inspired by that.
Think about it as a 21-year-old kid, what I wanted to do is make a bunch of money and retire early. That’s business in the get rich scheme. What we want to have is a be rich scheme which is the job you don’t want to retire from, which is the joy you wouldn’t want to stop having.
What did that look like beginning out? Hearing the stories, your story and hearing about Chick-fil-A, it was the food and it changed more in the second-mile service. This “be rich” in the late ‘60s, ‘70s, mid ‘70s, and ‘80s, was it this philosophy then or did it evolve to that?
It definitely evolved over time for sure. Truett, from the get-go, had a different view of business. That view of business evolved a lot clearer over time, but it was always directionally headed that way that the actual manifestation of it became more and more powerful over time.
The be rich philosophy was one that was instilled pretty early. Another one I’ve heard it, which I love you talking about, is drive fans over sales. When you’re talking to a guy who was a baseball team, but literally Fans First Entertainment is the name of our company. Everything is about creating fans and that became something that was instilled in you pretty early as well. We’re trying to build fans and the fans will take care of the sales.
In fact, that was where I was going to go next is another central organizing idea. That 20% that was different, we’re always talking about we’re not in business to create sales. We’re in business to create fans. If you think about it and go back to that expression, “How we do things drives how we do things.” If I put you in a room with ten other people and I said, “You go brainstorm ideas on how to get people to spend $0.30 more at Chick-fil-A. You’ve got an hour.” You brainstorm for an hour on how to get people to spend $0.30 more and you come out to your list of ideas. If I put you in a different room with a different assignment and I say, “Brainstorm ways to get more people to become raving fans of Chick-fil-A. You’ve got an hour.” I imagine that if you brought back both those lists, there would not be one idea on those lists that would be the same. How we view things drives how we view things. If we think we’re in business to get people to spend $0.30 more, that’s the idea that we’ll come up with and that’s the idea and we’ll execute. If we think we’re in business to create raving fans, those are the ideas that we come up with and execute. How we view things drives how we do things.
I love this so much that I’m telling you when we were at dinner, I will never look at the price of a Chick-fil-A. If I go to any of the competitors, I look at the dollar menu. There’s no such thing as a dollar menu at Chick-fil-A because at Chick-fil-A, “This is what I want. This is how they’re going to make me feel even if it’s $6.85 or $7.15.” A president worked at Chick-fil-A for a few years and we have a new person on our staff that worked at Chick-fil-A. He is like, “We raised prices about a couple of weeks ago.” No one notices. No one talks about it because it’s the value that you’re adding.
What you said there, between adding $.030 as we’ve talked, everything we’re trying to do is create. You want to believe in moments that everyone will leave and tell everyone, “You wouldn’t believe what happened in the ballpark. You wouldn’t believe how they treated me.” In those meetings that happen at Chick-fil-A, even early on going throughout your career, what were those meetings and conversations saying, “If we do this, it will create more fans?”
What we did is, we had our Raving Fan Strategy or Create Raving Fan Strategy. It had three so to speak, three building blocks if you want to think about it. The first was operational excellence. What we wanted to do is we want to do what people expected with excellence. That’s almost a precursor to being able to do anything else. If you’re not doing that, the rest of it is not going to work. Operational excellence, do what people expect with excellence. That’s where most people spend all of their time. They get stopped there, they never get past that.
The second pillar is the Second Mile Service. You can think of second-mile service as, “Do what people don’t expect in excellence,” which is what you were talking about. That’s the, “You’re not going to believe this.” The first part is you believe it because it’s what you expected. The second mile is, you’re not going to believe this moment. The problem with the second-mile service is, once you do the second mile consistently enough, guess what happens?
That’s the expectation.
It’s as expected and I move to the first mile. You have to constantly be innovating around the second mile because, at some point, the second mile will become the first mile. It’s what they expect. That’s the frustration. Beauty is the blessing and curse. The blessing is you create those, the curse is now you gave to cover expectancy, you’ve got to move up. That’s what makes it fun for a guy like you and me. That’s why we can stay ahead of the competition because we constantly have to be innovating and creating. The third model or building block, if you want to think about it that way, is the Emotional Connections Marketing. Our marketing was not about the price you pay. It’s about how we emotionally connect to these fans that we love.
Our marketing is always about emotionally connecting, not about sales and price. Here’s the thing going back to the sales and prices and if you are focusing on price, what every customer wants is a good value. You want a good value for the harder money that you spend. I want a good value for the hard-earned money that I spend. That value equals what you get divided by what you pay. There are two ways to create value. You can increase what they get or you can decrease what they pay. What most people do is decrease what they pay because what every customer wants is a value imbalance in their favor. When you decrease what they pay, you scrape that value in balance in their favor. What’s the problem if that’s our strategy? Several problems come up.
One is you limit the amount of value you can create to whatever the cost. If it’s a $4 sandwich, the most value you can ever agree is $4 with that strategy. That’s one problem. The second problem is the minute you sell them a $4 sandwich for half that or $2, it devalues it in their mind. The next time they come in, they feel ripped off when they pay you a fair price because, they say, “What happened to you before?” You’re undermining their trust in you by reducing the price. What we wanted were prices that were fair to them and to us. I also wanted to create that imbalance in their favor. The way we did it is not to focus on what they pay, they focus on what they get. What we want them to do is have a $20 or $30 experience and I only had to pay $7 or $8 to get it. That was the miracle of it all. How do we create value in their minds that far exceeds what they’re paying, but not by reducing the price?
I love this. I’m a big fan of PT Barnum. I love The Greatest Showman and what he did.
He would be a fan of yours.
I appreciate that. He died 100 years ago. The circus died as we know it, a few years ago in a 146-year run but Circus LA is thriving. When you look at their circus tickets, they are $10, $20, $30. In Circus LA, $120, $130, $150. It’s ten times the price of what a ticket is for the circus. The circus is gone, but Circus LA is thriving. I think a little bit about Chick-fil-A. You have these fast-food restaurants that are barely making ends meet and you’ve got Chick-fil-A but it’s not even close to the price. The value is outrageous because it’s a little bit more than your regular fast-food restaurants. What I’d love to know is some of these examples, either the second-mile service or the emotional connection. We go to Chick-fil-A because we feel it. We go there because we’re going to get a chicken sandwich. We’re going there because we know how they’re going to make us feel. I’d love to know some of these things that came with this raving fan strategy, “Here’s something we’re going to do in second-mile service.” “Here’s something we’re going to do in our marketing to add the emotional connection.” People will listen to it and say, “That makes sense. I can maybe apply this.”
I’m going to answer your question a little differently than you asked it.
Going different, that’s what we do.
There are a lot of ways to create value for people, but sometimes you need to know where to look. To generalize this on your audience, a great place to create value is to look at the pain points of people doing business with you. For example, a pain point for Chick-fil-A is the drive-thru. We’ve become so popular that our drive-thru lines have 30, 40, 50, 60 cars, and that becomes the pain point. What did we do? We said, “That’s the pain point. Let’s figure out a way to solve that.” What are we seeing now at Chick-fil-A drive-thrus? You’ve got double drive-thrus, people with iPads out there taking the orders and you’ve got all these innovations that took place in our greatest pain point.
What that does is create value for you by saving you time, which is important as saving people’s money. We get to interact with one of those amazing young people that we hired at Chick-fil-A rather than speaking in a speaker box where you can’t hear them and they can’t hear you. It upgrades the whole experience. What Chick-fil-A did a couple of years ago and said, “Innovation is the key to all this and we want innovation to become part of the DNA of Chick-fil-A.” We didn’t want innovation to be something that when we needed it, we go to the smart people in a room somewhere and delegate it to them. We said, “No. Innovation needs to be part of the DNA of Chick-fil-A so we created an 80,000 square-feet innovation center at Chick-fil-A.
I would love to invite you sometime to come to headquarters and take a look at it. What I love to show people when you walk through an 80,000 square-feet of innovation, what’s amazing to me about it is there’s not one thing we’re working on designed to get you to spend one penny more. It’s all about how we’re going to give you more value for the hard-earned money you’re always spending with us. We want to create that value imbalance. Imagine if one day you’re having to wait for twenty minutes to get through the drive-thru line, the next day it only takes two minutes with the same number of cars? We created some value by reducing the pain associated with doing business with us. That would be one example that would have fallen under what we call second-mile service.
Obviously, speed is one of the huge things that we think about. The friction points in our stadium, you get nickel and dimes so we made everything all-inclusive. We eliminated that pain point. I love speed. What’s another area, maybe another pain point?
One of the things that we’re talking about all the time at Chick-fil-A is when you walk into a lot of our competitors, this is what you look like. You are a human ATM machine designed to spit money across the counter. What that little sixteen-year-old has been trained to do as it relates to this dollar is, grab as much as they can and put it in the register as fast as they can. What that teaches me as a customer is my job is to keep as much as I can and it sets the business up as an adversarial relationship where there are a winner and a loser. We said, “That’s not what we want for Chick-fil-A. We don’t want our employees viewing our customers as human and ATM machines designed to spit money across the counter. We created a video and the name of the video is Every Life Has a Story, you may have seen this. Have you seen it?
It’s the day where everyone comes in and you’re seeing this mother in this situation, this guy’s in a situation, and it has a caption that comes up. It’s one of the most emotional videos I’ve ever seen.
That’s what we create as a counter idea to this. When we said, “If every life is a story, what if we made it our goal to improve the story for those we do business with?” How we view things drives how we do things. What about if our view of business was not to steal grandma’s last $0.30 but our job now is to improve the story for those we do business with? To give you an actual example of how all this works. I was out in Kansas City a number of years ago and the operator and I watched that video. We said, “If our goal is to improve the story for those we do business with, how are we going to do that right here in Kansas City at this location?” We got all excited because we watched the video. It was emotional and all that sounds good. He said, “Here’s what I’ve got to compete with,” and he showed me a $0.99 kid’s meal. When everyone else is doing a $0.99 kid’s meal, guess what you feel like you have to do? How else can I compete? That day because our paradigm was not how we’re going to save you $1 or $2 off the kid’s meal, it’s how we are going to improve the story of the parents and the kids that eat at Chick-fil-A.Renew and inspire your employees' view of working. Click To Tweet
Fortunately for you and me, this particular operator had three daughters. He said, “One of the things I love doing with my daughters is taking them on daddy-daughter date nights. What about if I created a daddy-daughter date night for my customers?” I thought, “This is brilliant.” In fact, if I’m totally honest, I thought I’d get paid big bucks to come up with ideas like that. How did I miss this one? We started brainstorming that day the whole daddy-daughter date night. He and I got excited. He’s the restaurant marketing director, which almost every Chick-fil-A operator has a full-time marketing director that works for that location. She got excited about it and so we started brainstorming and I had to leave to go back to Atlanta.
Two days later, my phone rang and it was this operator. He said, “David, you’re not going to believe this.” I said, “What?” He said, “Remember that daddy-daughter date night we were talking about? Word is spreading in the community that I’m doing this. People are starting to call and volunteer to help.” Think about this minute, this is a for-profit business. Probably most of the people seeing this have volunteered numerous times up at a nonprofit, but almost no one volunteers to have a for-profit because most of them aren’t doing anything worth volunteering for.
A florist called and said they’d love to donate flowers. A photographer called and said they’d love to take pictures. A car wash of all things called and said, “We’d love to wash the dad’s cars while they’re in with their daughters.” Fast forward a little down the future. He realized that in order to pull this off, he was going to have to cordon off 2/3 of the restaurant for the dads and daughters. He’ll leave a third open for the normal patrons who were coming in. He decided in order to maximize opportunity, you would create reservations in 30-minute increments that night. He was able to create 700 opportunities for dads and daughters to come to his daddy-daughter date night. He started at 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon and went until 9:00. He filled it all in, did all of the math, and put it on his website at 9:00 every Friday morning, two weeks out. He went back to check it at 5:00. Guess what had happened?
It sold out.
It was completely full and the waiting lists started eight hours. I always joke, I said, “Guess who was signing them up? Dad came home and I found out mom had signed them up for Daddy-Daughter Date Night.” The word was spreading and the moms were signing the dads up. Let me tell you, as a dad of a daughter, those dads were thrilled because almost every dad wants to be that dad but they get so busy and focused on other things. If you create the opportunity for them to step into who they want to be, they will step up and step in. It’s exactly what happened. I’m going to walk you through that night.
I would love to. That’s powerful.
That night, you would pull up outside the Chick-fil-A and the carwash people instead of washing the cars, they decided to valet park the cars. They would come out, open your door and open your daughter’s door. They’d set up a red carpet leading into the restaurant with a big tent structure. You would take your daughter in your arm and walk her down the red carpet. About halfway down the red carpet, there was a big container of carnations where you get a flower and give it to your daughter. When you got inside because they had reservations, they’d set up a hostess stand. You would walk up to the hostess stand, “Mr. Salyers and Miss Salyers your table is ready.” They would escort you to the table at night.
Here’s where it got super interesting and where a guy like you and a guy like me gets excited about this. His mindset was not, “How am I going to get people to spend $0.30 more tonight?” His mindset was, “How am I going to improve the story of this dad and daughter?” He’d done his homework. He got with a nonprofit in the area and he said, “I’m thinking about this daddy-daughter date night. Help me think through it.” They instantly realized that problem that he would not have realized. He said, “The problem is when that dad sits down with that little elementary or middle school-aged daughter, there’s something with a C that’s about to not happen, it’s called a conversation.” Most dads don’t know what to talk to their daughters about.
What he does is he created a placemat with thoughtful questions that this nonprofit had come up with. They’re thoughtful questions to ask the daughter and they left a space to record the answers so they could prove to mom that they had a conversation. The same thing for the daughter, they have a whole placemat full of questions for the daughter to ask the dad and record the answers. They were even orchestrating the conversation, which could have been awkward. His motivation was, “I want to improve the story.” Jesse, I’m a little further along in life than you. I’ve got things like this for my three kids. When they were in elementary school in their own little handwriting, things about their future and things that they were thinking about. Do you know what those are to me now?
They are priceless to me. What he did is instead of saving them $1 on a kid’s meal, he created something priceless in their eyes. Something that I bet a lot of those dads and daughters had to this day. What I realized is that we think of business as being about green matter. What I realized working for Chick-fil-A or in particular in situations like that is business is a lot less about green matter, a lot more about gray matter and red matter. Gray matter and red matter trump green matter all day long. What we did that night, we put a lot more thought and heart into it. We worked about hours that night. That’s why it was so powerful.
It’s unbelievable because you’re solely thinking about what’s their story? What are they going to say about it? What are they going to talk about? How is it going to impact their lives? Every single time and most companies think, “What is it about me?” They’re not thinking about what is it about them? You’re literally making their lives better. I didn’t know the whole red carpet and all that other stuff. That’s right up my alley, David. I love that. Is this part of the vision for Chick-fil-A to improve the lives of everybody? Is that part of the mission? Is this something that’s come about individually that everyone’s thinking about it?
In the central organizing idea at Chick-fil-A, there’s a corporate mission, but there are a lot of individual interpretations of that at the restaurant level because every single Chick-fil-A operator is an independent owner-operator. While they’re part of a confederation, their own individual Chick-fil-A is their own individual culture and own individual expression of that culture. It’s in alignment with a broader idea, but it’s specifically executed by that operator at their location and a reflection of their personality, desires, and own little personal culture at the restaurant level.
What you own is remarkable. You’re owning it. That’s such a powerful word. Are people willing to remark about something? Are you creating something special? You’re going to be both the same page, word of mouth and creating remarkable experiences. It’s everything. Those daddy-daughter nights are special. Are there any other remarkable things that stood out for you at your time in Chick-fil-A? I’m fascinated by how companies can create these remarkable experiences and what maybe stood out for you that’s like, “This could work.”
Let me give you another example. One of our operators noticed that if you’re a mom or a dad with young kids in elementary school, it’s hard to pull into the parking lot, get all those kids in to-go, wait in line to place your order, trying to keep them up, trying to get your order in place, and then get to the table. That’s a lot of work. One day, one of the operators said, “I’m going to try and make it easier on moms,” specifically because he noticed this more often with moms and dads. He created what he called Mom’s Valet, which you pull through the drive-thru and you place your order so you never have to get the kids. They’re all strapped in and all that, then you park and come in and everything you ordered is delivered to your table. You never have to wait in line. You just go straight from the car to the table and the food is either there or to be delivered.
That created such an amazing response for a month that we were sensitive enough to say, “This is tough to do this. How can we make it easier?” We found that pain point and we started about one operator and it became national news. You’re talking about people remarking about it and it almost, unfortunately, forced all operators to the participant because of this one guy’s idea. They’ve all started doing it as a result of this one guy and the national attention that he had gotten. One other example of one idea is if they get caught the national news, because the spirit of remarkable is, “How are we going to mark the lives of the people we serve?” At the end of the day, are we going to look back on something worth remarking about? How are we going to get customers to want to remark on that?” A lot of these best ideas get remarked about a lot.
There was another guy here in Atlanta and he noticed that a lot of times when families would come in at night, they’d all be on their little screens instead of having a conversation. What he decided to do is make a game or challenge out of it. He created a phone coop and there was a game where everyone put their phones inside the little box during dinner so that no one would have access to their phones. If they can make it through dinner with the phones in box, they won and they would all get free dessert as a result. It became nationalized again because it was the opposite. Everything’s going digital and crazy so now we’re going to have a few minutes with our family to interact and make it fun. Customers loved it.
It’s one of the reasons why we don’t have a digital scoreboard here. We don’t have any of that. We want people to come and escape and be together. We talked about the dinner we had for three hours. Human connection is so valuable, and Chick-fil-A understands that. The big thing to take away here, which we always look at, “Stop doing what your customers hate. Look at those pain points. Look at those friction points and get your customer’s shoes.” I don’t know if I shared this with you, but we go undercover. Someone on our staff every night, even me in a yellow tux goes off one-night season and I parked with the fans. I stand in line with the bands. I eat and sit with the fans and I have about three pages of notes because you don’t know until you feel it and until you go through a Chick-fil-A or like, “This took longer than I expected.” How do you make it faster? I’m sure you guys probably do something similar and you’ve got to get in their shoes.
Yes. How many businesses do we wish did that? The airline business and different things probably never sit in the back and have to try and put your computer out when someone’s trying to reply and it won’t work. It’s all these little things where people don’t experience when they’re paying as a customer.
I ask almost everyone in my show that I talked to, “When was the last time you had a service experience that you would tell everyone about?” It takes 10, 20 to 30 seconds for them to pause and think about it. It doesn’t happen on a regular basis. That’s why companies like Chick-fil-A are winning. As far as the training, onboarding, and bringing on people, there’s a lot that has to go with the training. Is there one tip or something you would share about bringing people on, what you’re looking to do and how you can bring on great people that care, especially part-time? I know a lot of people are not bought in full-time. They’re part-time. You guys do a great job on that. Be remarkable, keep delivered, and add more value.
I want to create value and balance in your favor. One of them is a lot of people are saying, “I’m looking for the right person. Help me find the right person.” That’s the wrong question. The right question is, “How do I become the organization that the person I’m looking for is looking for?” We tend to say, “I want to find the right person.” We’ve got to become the right organization that can attract that person and when you think about it that way, it looks totally different. That’s a whole different paradigm to think about.
The second thing is early on in Chick-fil-A, a crucial decision was made. What most people do in the franchise business is they look for people with lots of money by definition. When I need my next franchisee and fast food nowadays, it’s probably a $3 million proposition to buy the land, build the building, and stop the show’s equipment. Your first question is, “Does this person have access to $3 million? If they don’t, I move on to the next person.” It decided that money was the easy side of it. You can find money in a bank somewhere. You can borrow money from a bank. What you can’t find is talent.
He decided to make talent. Instead of, “Do you have access to $3 million?” being the first question at Chick-fil-A, the first question at Chick-fil-A when they’re looking for the next Chick-fil-A operator is, “Why will I want my kids working for this person?” Think about how many other questions it answers. If I’m interviewing you as next Chick-fil-A operator, what’s going through my mind is you seem to be a man of character and integrity. 70% of our employees are teenagers. Will you give them a good first impression of business? Will you grow and develop them? If I’m sitting across from a person and feel like, “That’s the person that I’d want my kids working for. That would be the next Chick-fil-A operator.” Play it out. How do we become the organization the person we’re looking for is looking for? We’re going to start with the leader. We have a leader you want your own kids working for. You’ve got a leader that other parents would want their kids working for you. You’ve got a leader who cares about growing and developing.
It’s interesting how would you do things. I used to love to ask Chick-fil-A operators, “What business are you in?” How they viewed it would drive down to do it. I probably met 2,000 of them along the way in the fast-food business. Do you know the favorite answer I ever got? I’ve got an operator up in Virginia. He told me, “David, I feel like I’m a Leadership Development Academy masquerading as a fast-food restaurant.” Think about the implications of that. The only reason he sells chicken sandwiches, fries and drinks is to fund his leadership again. He used a product that he’s offering the community as great contributors to society one day. He will look back on and be proud of, not how many sandwiches did he sell. That’s his funding mechanism for his bigger mission, which is to grow and develop leaders that will be gained great contributors to society. He’s merely using the laboratory of the classroom of his business to create those leaders.
It goes back to improving the stories of people. I love what you said, “Your customers will never be a bigger fan of your brand than your employees are.” I love that you create fans out of your employees. I know marketing is where you were, but marketing, culture, and experience all goes together in the same bubble. I’ve learned with marketing as well. How did they create such great fans? It’s still a job or work. Is it by building them, leaders? Is it by caring more for them? If you want to create part-time employees to be fans of your company, what do you do? Our president worked there for three years and still a giant fan because of when he worked there.It is what you do different from your competitors that makes the difference in your results. Click To Tweet
A lot of our Chick-fil-A operators became a surrogate parent to the kids that worked for them. I became a second father and a second mother to them. If they’ve got a basketball game, Chick-fil-A operators might be there watching the basketball game. If you want the best kids at a local high school, they are inevitably busy. They’re involved with sports, clubs and all this stuff, but what a lot of people do is they take all of that and they say, “If you’re going to work here, you need to be available when I need you. You need to change all that for me.” What our operators say, “We work around all that. We want you to be successful in life. Part of being successful in life is participating in sports and clubs.”
Tell me what you need for that and we’d work around that. They hired the best employees because they were most flexible and they became the organization the person that we’re looking for is looking for. A lot of other people will walk away from the same people and they say, “No, I need you to work Friday from 5:00 to 9:00. If you can’t work on Friday from 5:00 to 9:00, say it. I’ve got a homecoming on Friday.” They were trying to work around it again. If I was a parent, I want my kids to be able to go to the important events in their life and I want an employer who would recognize that that’s important, too. There’s not just your employer that’s important. You’ve got a whole life that’s important and how do we make it all work.
It cares more for your people as people than for what they can do for you as employees. When you take that whole mindset, I want you to be the best person. Of course, they’d be a fan because they’re not just, “What can you do for me?” It’s more of, “What can I do for you as a leader?”
How can we use our platform of business to enrich the lives of the customers, employees and partners we serve? It’s not how we enrich our own life.
We’re going to a game. At our ballpark, you haven’t seen a bananas game yet, but there’s lots of dancing, singing and craziness. We’re going to do truth and dare. Which one would you like first? Truth and dare and you have to do both.
We’ll go with the truth.
What was something that has been a challenge that has held you back in your career that you’re still working with even now?
I’ll go back to something that happened early on in my career and it’s counterintuitive, which much of Chick-fil-A was counterintuitive. Jesse, early on, when I went to Chick-fil-A, I was a 21-year-old kid and I loved what I did, but I loved it a little too much to the point that I went one stretch of eight weeks and I never took a day off. I wouldn’t do it because everybody was whip cracking. I was doing it because I loved what I did and I was single at the time. I was living at home with my parents, so it was okay. This is 2 or 3 years into my career where I got called up to Truett’s office. Truett was there and the president of the company got in, Jimmy Collins was there and they said, “David, we are pleased with what you’ve been doing.” They gave me a long list of things they were pleased about and then they said, “We’d like to promote you, but we don’t feel like we can. There’s something you’re doing that is going to keep you from being promoted and the only way we are willing to promote you is if you agree to stop doing this.”
I was aghast. I said, “I’m working eight weeks, seven days a week. What more could you ask for?” They said, “David, anytime we promote somebody, we send a message to the rest of the organization about what good looks like. You are working so much that we think it is unhealthy for you. We think it’s an unhealthy message to send to the rest of the organization because they’re going to think in order to get promoted, they’ve got to do that too. We’re willing to promote you if and only if you will stop working as much as you’re working. You’ve got to cut back on what you’re working because there are things outside of work that are important to you. One day you’re going to be married. You’re going to have a wife and kids, and you’ve got community service. We don’t want you working seven days a week, eight weeks in a row. The only way you get promoted is if you agree to work less.”
It’s caring more for people, for you as a person, and what you can do for the business.
That’s similar and going to continue on because I love what I do so much. Any strength taken to an extreme becomes a weakness. They showed me that that had become a weakness because I was taking a strike to an extreme.
Are you ready for the dare?
I’ll take the dare.
This will be different than any podcasts you’ve done before. At our games, we have an official sing-off where we have 2,000 fans in one grandstand versus 2,000 fans in another grandstand. When the song stops, you have to finish that song lyric. This song fits into what we’ve been talking about at Chick-fil-A. I’m not expecting good sing, but I’m expecting you hopefully to know this one. It goes back to 1987. When it starts, you’ve got to finish that song.
You make me feel.
It’s The Way You Make Me Feel by Michael Jackson in 1987. This is why it goes into little Chick-fil-A into a rock one. Here were the lyrics, “I never felt so in love before. Promise baby, you’ll love me forevermore. I swear I’m keeping you satisfied because you’re the one for me. The way you make me feel.” That’s about Chick-fil-A right there, David, and you nailed it. I’m impressed. You won the truth or dare. Have you ever sung on a podcast before?
I have not and never again.
I thought you’d kill it. That was remarkable. I was impressed. Going towards another favorite business and what they’re doing now, I would like a little bit about Roam. You guys are changing the game and looking at another business, not just a food service business and other businesses to reinvent the experience. Share a little bit about Roam and some of those things that you’re doing differently with this that businesses can apply.
It’s a modern-day workplace and we call it Innovative Workplace. People would call it the coworking business where you have shared facilities among a lot of different people. Probably the most famous company in this category is a company called WeWork that made some missteps for those that are familiar with the industry, but we’re completely different from WeWork as McDonald’s is from Chick-fil-A. I feel like those who much is given, much is required. For many years, I was given an amazing work experience. I sat back, enjoyed it and got ripped by it, but now, what’s required of me is to recreate for others. That’s what Truett Cathy and Chick-fil-A created for me for all that time because there were 80,000 people that applied in Chick-fil-A for over 100 opportunities. What are the other 79,900 people going to do? We’ve got to create more businesses like Chick-fil-A for people to love what they do, love who they’re doing it with, love the mission they’re on, and love who they’re becoming in the process.
Roam is a little startup. We started with one location several years ago. We’re now up to five locations and number six is under construction. Roam is my attempt to recreate for my employees, customers, and guests what was created for me in the context of a different business. The mission of Roam is to renew and inspire the way the world does business by partnering in the story of accomplished dreams. The renewal and inspiring part of that is this whole idea of viewing business as a be rich opportunity, not to get rich opportunity, and viewing work as something to be enjoyed, enriching and rewarding, not something to be dreaded and retired from.
The hope we’re doing is to inspire and renew. I feel like in many ways, work is broken. Work is looked at as a dirty four-letter word, something to be avoided, dreaded and endured. We want to create this renewed and inspired, “Work is something fantastic. Work is something I look forward to and I love doing, and if I love doing, I’ll ever work another day in my life.” We’re trying to create that for our own employees, but then make it contagious to the people who come here. The people who come here, either nonprofits or for-profits, a lot of them were smaller companies, but we even have Fortune 500 companies.
As I’m sitting here, we’ve got Porsche, Mercedes, we’ve got Chick-fil-A, and Roam and we’re trying to create this high-level experience. The partner in the story of accomplished dreams, the thing that is a common thread through everyone that comes here is most of the people who are here now are working on their dreams. There is a small nonprofit dreaming about their future, “This is our office space.” There is a small for-profit working or they’re a Fortune 500 company that has an offsite planning retreat dreaming of a rival tech. While they’re here, we want to renew and inspire their view of work. They work with a partner with them to help them accomplish those dreams.
Another way to think about it is, how can we give the small business person access to the resources of $1 billion business? When I was at Chick-fil-A, every day, I shut $1 billion business, so later on, if I needed an accountant, we had three floors for them. If I needed a lawyer, we had two floors for them. I keep five floors for them. The 1 or 2-person the company or a ten-person company, they don’t have those resources. That happen to recreate resources to be shared on a bunch of different companies, but still, give them access to that and then give them access to a culture that’s inspiring, invigorating, and creates work as a pleasurable experience, not the dreaded or endured.
You have five and going six, and it’s all starting with the culture, the people, then the experience. You’ve shared some unique things that you’re doing with the actual places. It’s not like a typical work environment.When you take something to an extreme, it becomes a weakness. Click To Tweet
All the different rooms are different themed rooms and we try to come up with every new location. We have new rooms that we come up with and we’re innovating and we’re always trying to. We’re about to roll out a new membership program and like Chick-fil-A, people aren’t going to pay one dime more than they’re paying now. The rewards they’re going to get will dramatically increase but what you’re going to pay is not going to increase at all. We’re trying to create this value and balance in their favor.
The $20 to $30 versus the $5. If you want better answers in business, you need to ask better questions. David, I’m fascinated, what are some of the best questions you’re asking?
Let’s role model that I was interviewing you. I’d say, “Jesse, I want you to pretend with me for a minute that somebody has videotaped your entire life. We’ve got it all on film. I want you to edit that down to about a twenty-minute documentary of your life as it relates to this question. ‘What are the things that molded and shaped you into the person I see here now?’ It can be successes, failures, teachers, coaches, parents, friends, and all these different things. I want you to walk me through your documentary and I want you to start with where you were born. Chronologically, work through all those things that have molded and shaped you into the person I see sitting here now. Start with birth and end with today, you’ve got twenty minutes and somewhere along the way, either the beginning, end or middle, I want you to give me a title for your documentary.”
That gets to see creativity. Imagine how humble they are and who they care about. There are many powerful things in that one question.
I know all the rest of the questions to ask and I can answer that.
If they start talking about their father first or mother and grandparents, “What were the lessons you learned from them?”
I know where to go with all the subsequent questions. That’s powerful.
You won the interview with that. What is one thing that you’ve done to stand out in business and in life?
Fundamentally, I think of business as a value creation activity, not a value extraction. People think a business is up to extract value from other people. I’ve always viewed it as an opportunity to create value for people and if you see it as a value creation activity, you create fans. If you see it as a value extraction, you create almost enemies in a sense. Fundamentally, a view of life is, “Am I on the face of this earth to extract value from everybody I encounter or create value for everybody I encounter?” At the end of your life, when you look back, the answer to that question will dictate a different way of living life and a different way of people viewing it, depending on how you spent your life.
I love to have you creating value and creating fans. One of the things, too is, “Do you consistently show up?” Like what Chick-fil-A does, they consistently make you feel good. That’s how you create fans. The team shows up and plays every Sunday there. David, the way you’ve shown up with our few times together has been powerful. I’m a big fan of yours. How do you want to be remembered?
Truett Cathy lived his life by Proverbs 22:1 where it says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” What would be most important for me is at the end of my life, I get to it with a good name that hasn’t been tarnished along the way. One of the ways a lot of people’s name get tarnished is the pursuit of great riches. The reality is, the real riches in life will never be found in their bank account. They’re going to find the richness on the relationships with the people that we enjoy and the richness of what we gave to people along with life. Life is God’s gift to us. The way we use it is our gift back to Him. I take the richness of relationships and of what we gave along the way, not what we’ve got.
The good name and you’re doing that. The impact you’ve made on me in a short period of time, my wife and family will tell you, “Jesse, you talked about David for about two days afterward and your general stuff and the impact that he’s made on you.” I look up to you. You’re a mentor from afar and you shared so much wisdom. I want to thank you for being with us again.
It was pure joy and it’s my pleasure. It’s a pleasure to be in your life. This is one of those rich relationships I’m talking about. These are the true riches, not the size of our bank accounts.
Let’s keep in touch and hopefully, we can get together again. I appreciate you for everything, David.
I want to come to one of your games next season.
Let’s look at a schedule and make it happen and I’ll take care of you.
- Instagram – Jesse Cole
- Every Life Has a Story – YouTube Video
- Instagram – Jesse Cole
- Every Life Has a Story – YouTube Video
About David Salyers
David Salyers was one of the original two marketing executives at Chick-fil-A. He spent 37 years in the Chick-fil-A Marketing Department and most recently served as a Vice President before his recent retirement.
Having worked at Chick-fil-A his entire career, he saw the principles of servant leadership and compassion play out in the growth of more than 2,300 Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country.