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May 13, 2019

“My Pleasure”

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Chick-fil-A is revolutionizing the cable repair business.

Maybe that’s a tad overstated, but the other day, the cable repairman at my house answered my “thank you” with a “my pleasure.” And when you hear the phrase, “my pleasure,” you think of Chick-fil-A.

The story behind the implementation of the phrase makes it even more impressive though.

Chick-fil-A has a highly intentional selection and development process for store operators and, for many years, this process includes annual operator meetings that were originally led by the founder of Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy.

At one of these meetings, a close friend told me that Cathy stood up and said, “I’ve been thinking. I want to end all our transactions with the phrase, My pleasure.” Supposedly, he’d been to a Ritz-Carlton, heard an employee say that, and thought that it indicated appreciation and luxury.

As you would expect: when the CEO speaks, all the operators hear this and nod along. However, as the operators headed back home to deliver waffle fries and chicken nuggets, nothing changed.

A year passes, and Cathy stands up again before the group.

“Hey, I’ve been traveling around this year, visiting stores, and I’ve noticed that lots of people aren’t saying, ‘My pleasure.’ I was serious about that, so let’s do that this year.”

The operators nod along, the meeting carries on, and afterward, they return home, producing chicken biscuits and fresh fruit cups at an impressive rate.

A year passes by, and Cathy stands up once more.

“I’ve been traveling around this year, visiting stores, and we’re still not consistently saying ‘My pleasure.’ Let me be clear. If you want to work for Chick-fil-A, your employees will all say, ‘My pleasure’ at the end of every transaction.”

A couple decades later, it’s clear that Cathy’s message had impact. You can’t escape a Chick-fil-A without pleasing an employee.

In addition, though, those annual meetings revolutionized the customer service industry. All fast-food restaurants are judged against Chick-fil-A, and other industries have picked up not only “my pleasure” but the commitment to eye contact and proactive service. It’s pretty astounding.

If all the other industries are learning something from Chick fil-A, so can we. Here are three lessons from the “my pleasure” story:

1. It takes a few years to institutionalize operating principles.

Change never happens overnight—especially  in a company that already has a corporate culture (which all companies do, whether it’s acknowledged or not).

Employees are usually skeptical of change. Too many ideas have come through in the past that haven’t panned out. Too many people are focused on their own ideas or on their way in or out the door.

If you believe in something, though, push through.

Harvard Business Review ran an article several years back called “The Hard Side of Change Management” which included this line: “[Companies] assume that the longer an initiative carries on, the more likely it is to fail—the early impetus will peter out, windows of opportunity will close, objectives will be forgotten, key supporters will leave or lose their enthusiasm, and problems will accumulate. However, contrary to popular perception, our studies show that a long project that is reviewed frequently is more likely to succeed than a short project that isn’t reviewed frequently.”

We are too quick to give up on change. Truett Cathy wasn’t. 

2. It takes a leader holding people accountable to bring about change.

The HBR article also noted that a key to successful change is the commitment of the leadership and the flawless execution (or integrity) of the change.

Truett Cathy was committed enough to show his teeth a bit when it came to “my pleasure.” I don’t know that he sought any consensus for this change, but when he made the decision, he made it clearly and with conviction.

Then, he got in the weeds, visiting stores and holding people accountable. You can’t hold people accountable to things you’re unaware of (this is a loose rewording of a legendary Peter Drucker quote, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”).

That doesn’t mean you’re a jerk in the process. Done in the right way, accountability actually values people. As Brene Brown writes, “When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”

3. Something small can be transformative for a brand.

Chick-fil-A has a cult following. You know you’ve made it big when people make parody videos about you <

“My pleasure” has been a big part of Chick-fil-A’s rise because it is the best representative of the astounding consistency of Chick-fil-A.

It doesn’t matter if you are at the Chick-fil-A in the financial district of Manhattan or the one in Perrysburg, Ohio, or the one in Lakeland, Florida—you will get a “My pleasure.”

Of course, if you get the phrase along with lousy customer service, then it’s all for naught. But in virtually every one of my experiences, the “my pleasure” is indicative of the entire experience.

The consistency in the small things leads to consistency in the big things. Employees act in consistent ways and customers’ expectations are consistently raised.

So they keep coming back.

Thanks for reading. And you don’t have to say, “My pleasure.”

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