In fall 2015 at the corner of 37th and Sixth Avenue in New York, a long line formed halfway down the block. If you’d lined up, you’d be greeted by a young employee with an iPad at the entrance.
Nope, it was not the launch of a new iPhone at an Apple Store. It was the first Chick-fil-A restaurant opening in Manhattan.
Previously I did a purpose discovery case study for pizza and what better way to follow up with a company that makes delicious chicken sandwiches!
You probably have heard great things about Chick-fil-A. As a great company as they are, Chick-fil-A did not have a purpose statement when they were founded. They clarified and discovered it during tough times.
Finding purpose in the midst of a crisis
In the early 1980s, Chick-fil-A was having a tough time. Rising interest costs slowed down their growth because it meant borrowing money costed more. On top of that, Wendy’s and McDonald’s came in the chicken market with chicken sandwiches and nuggets. As the two hamburger giants fought for market share, they bought up lots of chicken. The increased demand drove prices of chicken up, which meant Chick-fil-A’s ingredients’ cost rose as well. Things were so tough that the founder and former CEO Truett Cathy took no salary for a year.
To deal with the situation, Chick-fil-A scheduled a two-day offsite meeting with its leadership team to formulate a battle plan. They put their heads together, but eventually hit a wall. That is when Truett’s older son, Dan, shifted the conversation by asking basic and fundamental questions: “Why are we in business? Why are we here? Why are we alive?”
As Truett explains in his book, Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People (a wonderful book title!):
[Dan] really wanted us to consider the purpose of Chick-fil-A, and he believed the answers to his questions might lead us to solutions to our more immediate problems as well. So the eight of us began something of a brainstorming session, putting ideas on a blackboard as we went.
The following discussions would focus on what each team member thought was important. Eventually, they unanimously settled on two things that would become Chick-fil-A’s official Corporate Purpose:
“To glorify God by being faithful stewards of all that is entrusted to us.” and “To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
The Corporate Purpose would be inscribed on a plaque and placed by the front door of their headquarters welcoming visitors and reminding its employees of their purpose even to today.
Wonderful things happened after they adopted their Corporate Purpose, but I’ll leave those stories for you to read in his book.
What we can learn from Chick-fil-A about discovering purpose
- Go offsite. If you’re going to talk about your purpose, make sure you do it offsite. Your team will be less distracted so they can focus on discovering purpose. By stepping away from the workspace, you’ll have a fresh and more objective point of view. Plus, the change of pace helps with coming up with ideas.
- Use tools to brainstorms. Don’t just sit around the table and discuss. Chick-fil-A’s team used a blackboard to brainstorm. So make sure you get those whiteboards and markers out. Post-its are great too.
- Reach an unanimous agreement. Make sure everyone on the team agrees and resonates with the purpose statement. Treat it as if it you are all jury members of a trial that requires an unanimous verdict.