Interview with Dee Ann Turner: How to Build A Compelling Culture

Dee Ann Turner has worked for Chick-fil-A for more than 30 years and currently serves as Vice President, Corporate Talent. Over the years, she has played an intricate role in growing Chick-fil-A’s unique and highly regarded culture while overseeing recruitment, selection, and retention of corporate staff and the recruitment and selection of Chick-fil-A Franchisees. Dee Ann’s insightful knowledge and applicable tools to building an incredible and influential company culture are revealed in her upcoming book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and A Compelling Culture.


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What inspired you to write the book?

After my Dad passed away in 2013 and Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A died in 2014, I was left with a void of the two most influential business mentors in my life. For 30 years, Truett had engrained in me the people principles I discuss in It’s My Pleasure. I wanted to be sure that those of us who learned these principles that are core to Chick-fil-A’s foundation and success did not forget what he taught. I also wanted to be sure that Franchisees and employees that never knew Truett would know the core principles.

What is the big idea behind your book “It’s My Pleasure?”

Truett often said, “We are not in the chicken business, we are in the people business.” To that end, he often reminded me, “People decisions are the most important decisions we make.” It’s My Pleasure explains the impact of the combination of extraordinary talent and a compelling culture. The book goes into detail about how Chick-fil-A has built a team to create a compelling culture, how the culture has been grown and strengthened and how guests engage with the culture.

Chick-fil-A has an amazing culture. You call culture the “soul of the organization.” How do you exactly go about creating an amazing workplace culture?

First, you have to define the reason that you are in business through a common purpose. Most people want to be about something bigger than themselves and they care about the “why?” At Chick-fil-A, Truett decided in 1983 that we are in business to be faithful stewards of all that is entrusted to us and to be a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A. Selling chicken is simply a means to impacting lives. Secondly, deciding on a mission drives the organization to accomplish significant goals. Developing core values and guiding principles clarify how the business will achieve its goals. These elements of purpose, mission, core values and guiding principles define the habits and behaviors that form the culture of the organization.

How do Chick-fil-A’s core values shape the organizational culture and impact it’s hiring decisions

Excellence, integrity, generosity and loyalty were words that described Truett Cathy and the character of the people he wanted to associate with. Excellence: Truett often told the story of Jimmy Carter and his discussion with Admiral Rickover as Carter was graduating from the Naval Academy. The Admiral asked Carter if he had always done his best. Carter thought for a moment and finally answered, “not at all times.” Admiral Rickover responded, “why not?” and left Carter in the room by himself to think about it. Truett encouraged us to give our best at all times to everything we do.

Integrity: Integrity is doing what you say you will do when you say you will do it how you say you will do it. The best example of integrity at Chick-fil-A is remaining closed on Sunday. It was a decision Truett made when he opened his first restaurant in 1946. Later, he was often pressed by mall landlords of Chick-fil-A locations to open his business on Sunday. He held strong to his beliefs. He was often asked if he had calculated how much money he lost by being closed on Sunday. Truett responded that he was far more worried about how much money he would have lost had he remained open.

Generosity: Truett set a high bar for generosity and at Chick-fil-A, we are generous with our time, talent and treasure. Truett’s generosity has included giving away millions to youth education initiatives and scholarships, food donations in local Chick-fil-A communities and providing Chick-fil-A Operators and staff the opportunity to teach leadership skills to thousands of leaders in the U.S. and abroad. Serving others is foundational to the core value of generosity and at Chick-fil-A, leaders are expected to role model service.

Loyalty: The culture at Chick-fil-A has created a very attractive work environment that encourages employees and franchisees to remain with Chick-fil-A for a major part, if not all, of their careers. Truett believed that kind of loyalty contributed to Chick-fil-A’s success. He believed that decisions, including hiring decisions, should be made with a long-term view. He expected his leaders to make good hiring decisions that would serve both Chick-fil-A and the new employee well for many years. Additionally, Truett knew that loyal guests would also be an important part of Chick-fil-A’s success. From the very beginning, in his first restaurant, he made it a point to know the customer’s name, order and even their story. This type of loyalty from employees and guests has significantly contributed to Chick-fil-A’s success.

When you meet prospective talent for the first time, you shake their hand and look them in the eye, but what are you really looking for? 

At Chick-fil-A, we are looking for people that have a heart for service. We are in the business of serving others, so that is the number one quality we seek. Additionally, we look for people whose character match the core values of the organization. We give people an opportunity to really get to know us as well. If we are to make great long-term decisions, not only do we choose the best candidate, but we want them to have the opportunity to make a long term decision about a great place to work. We are also looking for a proven track record of success. Even if someone has never had a job, we look for ways they have achieved success in some way, even if as a student or as a volunteer.

What has been your biggest leadership lessons from working at Chick-fil-A?

There have been so many, but perhaps the most important one that has served me well is one from a former mentor of mine, Jimmy Collins. Jimmy is the previous President and COO of Chick-fil-A. He taught me early in my career “It is kindness to refuse immediately what you eventually intend to deny.” This is important in working with people to set appropriate expectations. If you know you cannot meet their expectations, whether it is hiring them for a job, awarding a raise or promotion or assigning them a significant project they wanted, it is better to say “no” immediately than to drag them along and raise their hopes. When I am “nice,” I care about what you think of me.  When I am kind, I care about your needs and feelings more. As leaders, we want to be kind. That serves the other person much better.

Which top 3 books have most influenced you as a leader?

#1 – Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud

#2 – Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization by John Wooden

#3 – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck and Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

What’s your biggest leadership advice you would share with the Millennial generation? 

I don’t think this is something I have to tell this generation, but it’s this: Be yourself. Only join organizations where you can be who you authentically are. You will be happiest when who you are aligns with what you do and who you do it with in work and life.

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I am giving away 4 copies of It’s My PleasureFollow the instructions below to enter the giveaway contest and then spread the word to others! The contest ends at midnight on January 6th midnight (PST) and the winner will be announced on January 7th. 

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Question: What’s your favorite thing about Chick-fil-A?

  • Picking one thing is a challenge. I love their chicken sandwich and their vanilla milkshake. I really like their waffle fries. And I like the opportunity my daughter is having to work at one of the local stores in our area. But I especially like the fact that they are closed on Sundays. I think it simply sends the right message to their employees, their customers, and the community.

  • Steve Hall

    Their people and their consistent high quality. So many fast food restaurants vary from store to store, but Chick-Fil-A’s are consistent across the country. It’s a well run organization, from the top down.

  • C12 — Va Blue Ridge

    The attitudes and energy of the majority of the front line staff. They are energetic and show that they enjoy their jobs unlike peers at other fast food brands.

  • Ryan Nelson

    Amazing customer service and the indoor park. My girls love to burn energy in there.

  • Matt Lyles

    My favorite thing? I always feel better after visiting. My family was recently traveling home. We were hours behind schedule so we were having a frustrating day. We stopped along the way to get Chick-Fil-A to go. I went inside and spent maybe a few minutes, but after all the exemplary customer service I received I left feeling much happier and relaxed.

  • Cameron Thomson

    I love that Chick-Fil-A understands it’s “why” and what business they are really in. On a trip to the U.S about 20 years ago I received exceptional service that I still use an example in courses I deliver to U.K Leaders today.

  • Jim Patterson

    I am a recent convert (< 3 years) to Chick-Fil-A. I like it because it's consistent across the country. I also like the fact that when I ask for a large water, they give me a large water for free.

  • Geoff Hsu

    “…we are in business to be faithful stewards of all that is entrusted to us…” Knowing that we are recipients, graced with what we have been given for the service of others is the root of a life-giving, other-centric, all-encompassing vocation.

  • MommaBear

    I appreciate their focus on the customer. I always feel valued when I go there.

  • In a culture that seems to lack customer service I really enjoy the customer service at Chick fil a. Each visit is refreshing. I am also really thankful for healthy food options and that they post calories for foods choosen.

  • Kadi Lang Cole

    Their attention to customer needs – refilling drinks, mom drivethru, table delivery – and it’s always improving!

  • Terry

    The proof of their great culture can be found in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Our Chick-Fil-A has lots of college kids working. It always amazes me how the kids working are courtesy, respectful, and exemplify what it means to be part of the Chick-Fil-A team. It’s proof that what Chick-Fil-A does works.

  • Mark Deterding

    Their commitment to leadership and maintaining their culture in every location.

  • Brad Erb

    My favorite thing about Chick-Fil-A would have to be the incredible culture they create within their organization. Among that would be their amazing customer service and rallying their raving fans!

  • Dr. Nic Williams

    Honestly my favorite thing is the attention they pay to families…specifically events for my kids. It seems they always have something going on. It doesn’t hurt that the chicken is awesome. 🙂

  • Well it used to be their honey mustard until they took it away.. beyond that theit customer service is top notch. I have always felt welcome at any Chick-Fil-A.. other businesses could learn from their culture.

  • everything is simply excellent. we stopped at a store in Kentucky on the way home last night from Passion 2016…the service…the food (quality/taste) all of it was excellent. they’ve set the standard bar high.

  • Tammy

    Their service, and emphasis on excellence.

  • Rick Harris

    I love the fact that they take care of their employees. The employees genuinely LOVE coming to work. It shows in everything they do.

  • My favorite thing about Chick-Fil-A is that they will FINALLY be coming to West Michigan in the near future. Finally!

  • I really like the fact CFA takes care of their employees and cares about personal development and improving their own employees’ lives. They take care of people over profit.

  • They are very consistent. It does not matter what restaurant I am in, you know what it will be like when you walk in. They expect more from their employees so they are able to hire a higher a quality worker.

  • Anthony Moore

    My favorite thing…is their chicken nuggets! 😀

  • Favorite thing: sweet tea. Go ahead. Call me Southern. SWEET TEA!

  • Love the food, sweet tea, and the positive customer service attitude.

  • It’s a very efficient, but positive place to take your family….and great chicken minis.

  • Jp Coyle

    Besides the chicken it’s the people, so friendly and helpful.

  • It’s hard to pick just one favorite thing about Chick-fil-A.

    However, in my opinion, one of the company’s greatest achievements is its history of providing opportunities for young people to learn ethical business practices in a safe, yet demanding, service-related field.

  • Jay Lee

    Love their chicken burgers and verses on the cups!

  • Terry Foster


  • Terry Morgan

    I like their commitment to not open on Sundays. I would love to read Dee Ann Turner’s book. Being in the leadership development and HR side of our org, I can learn a lot aboutChick-fil-a’s service culture. Great post, Paul. A blessed 2016 to you!

  • I like that they ably demonstrate an ability to be successful in business while upholding core values and integrity.

  • Larry Noel

    It’s three things: quality, quality, and lastly quality! Their culture of QUALITY service makes me want to do business with them because I know I’ll never have a frustrating experience. Their QUALITY product in my opinion, is the best in it’s field. If I want a chicken sandwich, it’s always going to be Chick-Fil-A. The QUALITY of the intangible. There is something special, an atmosphere that exists, that seems to represent a true enthusiasm by the employees. That is few and far between with most other fast food brands.

  • Peter Y. Cheung

    It seems to be a pretty good company!

  • This is a great story and interview. I look forward to reading this book.

  • Favorite thing? How about EVERYTHING! Great company and great interview Paul. I loved Dee Ann’s answer to your question about learning her biggest leadership lesson. Also, I’ve had the pleasure to begin reading “It’s My Pleasure” and have found it incredibly helpful for discussing culture, or the organization’s “soul”, with the leaders I coach. Also, I have to mention how great the Chick-fil-A sauce is on their waffle fries, chased down with a cool lemonade 🙂

  • I am so proud of Dee Ann and her courage to capture the legacy of our leader S.Truett Cathy. Truett left a legacy with me similar to the one Dee Ann describes. I try to remember and honor Truett to someone everyday as I describe how he taught us to serve others first.