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The Secrets to Chick-fil-A’s Success

By Leneita Fix October 28, 2015

This year our ministry was blessed to win a prestigious grant from the Chick-fil-A Foundation. My husband was flown to Chick-fil-A’s headquarters in Atlanta for a few days of award ceremonies and meetings. Between meetings, he was taken on a few tours to see what goes on behind the scenes in the company.

One of the places he visited was a giant warehouse nicknamed “The Hatch”—where some of their most creative innovations are born. A few years ago, the company had a crisis. Staff felt stifled by the pursuit of perfection to make the best chicken sandwich and to provide the best customer service. They feared making even the tiniest mistake. Out of this was born an entire department focused on innovation, where workers felt safe to try, fail, and try again.

What does this new philosophy look like in action? Chick-fil-A has figured out that the highest percentage of their sales come from the drive-thru. So they set up a giant parking lot just to work on drive-thru creativity. Have you noticed how some Chick-fil-A employees stand outside to take your order? That idea was “hatched” in their massive parking lot. They have a six-step approach that could offer a lot to our own ministries.

Innovate

Chick-fil-A employees start by identifying issues that need to be approached from a different point of view. They see a problem and know it can’t be fixed in all the usual ways, so they get creative. Look at your own ministry. What are some things you’ve discovered through trial and error that can’t be fixed through the usual channels? Do you need more volunteers? Are older students leaving? What is a problem you need to deal with in an unusual way? Before you do anything else, ask the Lord what he sees and thinks about your difficult ministry situations. Pray for a new perspective.

Understand

Now that you know what you need to change, it’s time to focus on the actual problem. This will take some digging and research. At this stage it is easiest to make assumptions about why a problem exists. But if you don’t take the necessary steps to discover the root issue, you’ll only be able to treat symptoms, never the actual disease. Ask your adult leaders what scares them about volunteering. Take a group of high school juniors out for coffee, and brainstorm things that keep them from attending. Just like Chick-fil-A has to know exactly what clogs the drive-thru line in order to increase efficiency, we have to discover what is causing the biggest hold-ups in our own ministries.

Imagine

It’s always easier to focus on problems than solutions. A huge venting session will make us feel better, but it also takes off the pressure to fix anything. Most fast food restaurants think longer drive-thru lines are just a part of a high volume of customers. Chick-fil-A knew that to stick to their core value of excellent customer service, they had to do everything they could to shorten those lines. Never be afraid to get a group together to imagine ways issues can be resolved. Create a task force to focus on creative solutions to move past the problems. One of our biggest pitfalls in ministry is our Lone Ranger mentality. Remember, Chick-fil-A has a whole department dedicated to problem solving. Get a group of people together from a variety of backgrounds to help imagine change.

Prototype

Obviously you aren’t going to go out and build a facility just for the sake of discovering ministry innovations. Yet you still need to move from imagining to trying. Before you start from scratch with a whole new system, try starting with a few small changes. Too much change all at once can discourage students and adult volunteers. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If one innovation doesn’t work, don’t get discouraged. Just try something else. See what starts to work in your context.

Validate

Are you starting to feel good about a particular innovation? Are you ready to implement? Stop! Don’t forget this important step in the problem-solving process. Come back together with your team, and make sure they are clear on the direction you are going. The best changes in the world can fail in colossal ways if your team isn’t onboard. Make sure everyone understands and agrees with the new approach.

Launch

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! It’s time to make it happen …

… then start all over again.

This may seem like a cumbersome system, but remember that you are not trying to change the way things are done across the board. You are merely trying to fix one issue at a time in your ministry.

My husband says that at Chick-fil-A, some employees spend the whole day on bicycles going through mock drive-thrus. Innovation and problem solving take dedication and patience. The Chick-fil-A method can keep us from getting stuck in old formulas that aren’t working anymore. Your problems aren’t unsolvable; your ministry has so much room to grow! How can a fresh approach change your ministry today?

CC Image courtesy Mark Turnauckas on Flickr.

About the Author

Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix co-founded Frontline Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace  to equip, coach, and speak into the lives of those working with families living in a “survival mode” mentality. They refer to this thinking as the “new urban.” Combined, they carry almost four decades of experience in the family ministry setting, most of it in traditional urban ministry. However each…  Read More