Former Chick-fil-A VP Dee Ann Turner: THIS is the essence of a remarkable corporate culture

PROGRAMMING ALERT: Watch Dee Ann Turner talk with Stuart Varnery on "Varney & Co" Wednesday, October 2 at 9:45 a.m. ET

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Successful leaders know this: it is always about the person— the customer, the team member, the leader, the owner— one person at a time. Fill in the blank for yourself, “We are not in the _________ business. We are in the people business.”

A remarkable culture is more than just a culture that’s “good” or “great” or even “compelling.” Remarkable cultures not only fulfill the objectives of the organization, they transform everyone with whom the organization associates— including employees, customers, communities, and beyond.

Strong, healthy organizational cultures don’t just happen. They are neither accidental nor unintentional. Someone must create that kind of culture or transform an existing one.

Creating a remarkable culture requires intentionality and vision. The driving force behind such a strong culture is an individual or group of individuals who share a common vision for the future. Leaders of these types of organizations imagine the future and design a pathway to align the organization with the future. They know how to motivate the members of the organization to follow a new path.

Culture is the soul of the organization. It is the way we envision, engage, and experience others within an organization. Culture defines the values and behaviors that are acceptable and expected.

Organizational culture can be an elusive concept to describe, but one way to describe it is not just working together but living life together. This happens when the people of the organization are so aligned around purpose, mission, and values that their bond forms relationships that go beyond the work environment. This type of culture celebrates together, grieves together, and grows together.

I would never describe the task of creating a remarkable culture as simple. However, it is far easier to create a strong, healthy culture from the beginning than to rebrand a struggling culture after it is formed. Sometimes we join up later, becoming part of a culture that has already existed for a season.

Changes in ownership or leadership or a shift in business mission requires recreating culture or strengthening the current one. It can be done later in organizational life, but it takes even more focus, intentionality, and commitment.

Organizational culture can be an elusive concept to describe, but one way to describe it is not just working together but living life together. This happens when the people of the organization are so aligned around purpose, mission, and values that their bond forms relationships that go beyond the work environment. This type of culture celebrates together, grieves together and grows together.

The antithesis of a remarkable culture is a toxic culture. Prior to joining Chick- fil- A, I worked for another family-owned company that was the opposite of my Chick- fil- A experience.

My boss hovered over me constantly, looking for any possible error I might make. I punched a time clock and was docked if I was even a minute late back from my thirty-minute lunch.

Every day after lunch, the owner took a two- hour nap in his office with strict orders to not be disturbed. There were no leaders present, only people with positional authority.

Every day I went to work and watched the family members fight with one another and exercise positional authority instead of personal influence over their employees.

The parents openly fought and argued with each other and their children. The children were constantly in competition with one another, causing a cloud of disrespect and dissension to permeate the culture.

Toxic cultures are known for poor service and poor performance. Fear was so much a part of the culture that it was virtually impossible for employees to do their best work.

Employee engagement was low and turnover was high. It’s no surprise that I remained there only eighteen months. I often say that my worst day at Chick- fil- A was still better than my best day at my former company.

The more that mistreatment and deceit are present in an organization with a toxic culture, the more rules become necessary to coerce the workers to keep their heads down and remember who is in charge.

When an organization becomes dominated by rules, people will break them, and when people break them, they will be fired. Firings are frequent in toxic cultures. Retention is measured in weeks and months rather than years and decades.

Customer service and experience exist in toxic cultures, but they are all negative. Toxic cultures become so focused on making a profit that they forget the relational aspect of customer service. The rules cause the employees to lose perspective on the main thing, which is to serve the customer.

Toxic cultures are characterized by compliance to enforced rules. In contrast, remarkable cultures are committed to principles that are applied. The difference is like night and day.

When you step into an organization with a remarkable culture, it is obvious that the employees are glad to be there. You can sense people committed to doing their best work. There is a presence of excitement and energy and passion in the air. Something different happens when people are free to operate under principles taught by leaders rather than being forced to be compliant to a stack of rules.

Excerpted from from Dee Ann Turner's, "Bet on Talent: How to Create a Remarkable Culture That Wins the Hearts of Customers," published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group on September 3, 2019. Used by permission. 

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