Chick-fil-A is an Atlanta institution, and Dee Ann Turner is part of the organization that creates some of the country’s tastiest chicken. Dee Ann has worked with the company for more than 30 years and as vice president of corporate talent, she wrote the book on finding the company’s next generation of leaders. No, really, she just wrote a book to help guide businesses and nonprofit organizations in the pursuit of finding the right talent for their companies, creating a strong culture and engaging guests — all based on the practices and lessons she’s learned and followed at Chick-fil-A. Learn more about this mother of three who has called Atlanta home her entire life, and find out why Dee Ann Turner is our newest FACE of Atlanta.
You began your career with Chick-fil-A more than 30 years ago. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen occur during your tenure?
I’m much more conscious of changes that impact the attraction and retention of talent. The biggest change I’ve seen is the entrance of the millennial generation. They’ve totally changed business. From our perspective, they’ve changed guest expectations, and they’ve changed the employment game. They’re expecting healthy and sustainable food and how we impact the community and the environment as guests; and as employees, they want balance in their lives. They want a rewarding career, but they also want to serve in the community and have families. The balance of all that is really important, and they work differently. They want constant innovation, and they want environments to have freedom and work in different places.
For those native Atlantans, some may remember [S. Truett Cathy’s] first restaurant, which was opened in 1946 and is still operating all these years later. To go from that to now, a restaurant chain with 1,900+ restaurants and nearly $7 billion in sales, is a pretty incredible change since 1964, when Chick-fil-A became incorporated. We’ve had big transitions with losing Truett in 2014 and moving into the second generation of leadership at Chick-fil-A.
What is your favorite meal on the menu?
I grew up in Atlanta, and I ate my first Chick-fil-A probably at South DeKalb Mall (now called Gallery at South DeKalb) because I lived in Decatur for the first few years of my life, so it’s always been a favorite. My latest fave is our Superfoods Side Salad with the kale and broccolini.
As Vice President, Corporate Talent, part of your job is to find and recognize superb employees in the organization. What makes a “good” employee, and how do you discover these talents?
Chick-fil-A is in both the food and the service business and obviously, it’s the people who deliver both. So we look for a heart for service, and we look for people with successful track records of performance. We believe focusing on past performance is a predictor of future performance, so we look for someone with a successful track record. We look for people who resonate with our core values, which are excellence, integrity, loyalty and generosity.
One of the most important things we do is that we expose candidates to everything we can about Chick-fil-A. We try to expose people to exactly the work they will do and the environment in which they will do it so they can be sure that they are making a great long-term decision.
You have lived in Atlanta your entire life. What’s your favorite part about living here?
I’m a native Atlantan and my husband is, too. We both come from multigenerational native Atlantans, which is very unusual here. I’m a history buff, and I love that part of Atlanta — wandering around Oakland Cemetery and some of the old neighborhoods, like Cabbagetown, Old Fourth Ward, Ponce and Virginia-Highlands.
I have great memories of Braves games with my boys. I spent many a night at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (former home to the Atlanta Braves). Fred McGriff’s debut was my oldest son’s first baseball game — he was about 5 years old. That was the same night the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium caught on fire! And then, of course, watching the Braves win the World Series — having a little guy who thought that was wonderful.
The “Eat Mor Chikin” cow campaign is alive and kicking here in Atlanta. Which is your favorite Atlanta billboard featuring those begging bovines?
After Truett passed away, [the advertising company that originally created the campaign] put up billboards in Atlanta that had the cows saying, “Thank you, Truett. We’ll never forget you.” The first time I saw it, tears welled up in my eyes.
You just wrote your first book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture. Can you share what your goal is by writing this book? What are a few takeaways from the book for other industry leaders and entrepreneurs?
It started as an internal thesis. Truett had recently died, and he had been such a mentor of mine. He always said, “We’re not in the chicken business, we’re in the people business.” He taught me people decisions are the most important decisions that we make. I wrote this book for Truett, so those of us who knew him wouldn’t forget his words, and those who didn’t know him would know what was important and foundational to the success of Chick-fil-A, and that’s making great people decisions.
The book basically talks about four things:
- How you create a compelling culture in your organization
- How you build a team that grows a compelling culture within your organization
- How to grow a compelling culture within your team
- How to engage your guests in a compelling culture
A few standout points talk about selecting talent instead of hiring people; having an abundance mentality vs. a scarcity mentality; centering on talking people out of taking a job (you’ll understand more after reading the book); and commitment vs. compliance.
If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would it be and why?
If I could travel anywhere tomorrow, it would be a place that I have been a number of times — Kenya. For 10 years, I have worked with a nonprofit, The Kenya Project, that supports a school of 900 children in a village about two hours outside of Nairobi. During my first trip there, I fell in love with a little orphan, and he inspired me and my husband to build children’s homes in that community and create families for orphaned children. The Kenya Project now has four homes serving 80 orphans. I always look forward to visiting “my children” in Kenya.
What are a few qualities you look for when searching the talent pool for bright stars? How would you recommend candidates work on these skills/qualities?
People who have internal locus of control — they believe that, “If it is to be, it is up to me,” and take ownership for their work. Additionally, we are looking for people with a strong leadership track record. We’re always trying to build our leadership bench for the future. And the most important quality is that someone have a heart for service, because we’re in the service business.
Candidates at any job should be looking for opportunities to lead something. Even my 10th grade son is trying to bulk up his college resume, and he’s starting small. Also learn the art of becoming self-aware and know how you impact people. That skill comes from asking for feedback and then incorporating it into a development plan to grow. Finally, be curious — when you look at things, you don’t understand, seek to discover answers along the way.
What is/was your creative process like? Is there a local place that helped inspire your words or provided a quiet environment to pen your book?
I need quiet space and tend to write very early in the morning between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., but most of it was written on airplanes. I didn’t write it during any working hours. I wrote half of it on an iPad in St. Martin during the week of Christmas vacation in late 2014.
Besides Chick-fil-A, where is your favorite place to get a meal in Atlanta? What is the best dish you’ve ever had here?
This is so difficult to answer. For my down-home roots, when I just want some good, old-fashioned cooking, it’s always Mary Mac’s Tea Room. Or pretty much anything from Chef Ford Fry. My favorite dish would have to be braised short ribs.
Beyond your corporate title, literary projects and three children, you are an active volunteer and board member for various nonprofit organizations. Why add the pressure of civic duty to your already busy to-do list?
Well, sometimes I ask myself the same question! That came from my dad. He was a very generous man, and so was Truett. I’ve obviously had a lot of opportunities and now need to give back to others.
What books are you reading right now?
Upon going through this process, I’m encouraging other new authors. I met an outstanding young millennial, Paul Sohn, who has written his first book called Quarter-Life Calling. It’s a terrific book for millennials about finding your calling early in life. I also really like the just-released Breaking Busy, by Alli Worthington, about how to have a plan to manage a busy life.
What’s the toughest, and best, part about raising three sons? We’ve heard cautionary tales about teenage boys’ appetites — are you always bringing home Chick-fil-A to fill their bellies?
Raising boys has been my greatest joy. While sometimes it is tough being the only female, (we also have two male dogs), I love being The Queen. There is a connection that boys have to their moms that is precious. There is nothing quite like dancing with your son on his wedding day. They were all good boys, and there were only two issues. I was scared to death when they were learning to drive, so that became their dad’s job. Secondly, smelly football clothes were the worst, so they learned to do laundry at a young age! And yes, keeping teenage boys fed is a challenge — over the years, they have eaten a lot of Chick-fil-A!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I have two. One’s from mom life, and one’s from work life:
My work life was from Chick-fil-A former president Jimmy Collins, who said, “It’s kindness to refuse immediately what you eventually intend to deny.” I talk about this idea in my book. We try to be nice sometimes and not tell people the truth, but the kinder thing to do is say no immediately, rather than dragging it out and disappointing someone by raising their expectations and not fulfilling them.
My mom advice is, whether it’s at the end of the day, the end of the month or the end of a season, you have to look back and say, “I did the best I could. I wasn’t always perfect, but I did the best I could.” I think especially as a mother, when you’re raising three kids, have a career and are involved with many things, sometimes I think we hold this really high standard for ourselves. When everyone else lets us off the hook, we don’t let ourselves off the hook.
What was the hardest thing about scribing a book?
I wanted to be a writer all of my life. I had written a lot of blog posts and articles and was a journalism major in college, so the writing part wasn’t tough for me. It was the book promotion that totally caught me off guard. I hadn’t thought much past completing the book, and then all of a sudden, it’s like birthing a baby, now you have to raise it. I was so focused on “giving birth,” I hadn’t put too much thought into “raising the child.” However, the more that I talked about It’s My Pleasure, the more I ingrained those principles in myself and essentially practiced what I preached.
What are three things you can’t live without excluding friends, family and faith?
I only can come up with two, which are sunshine and water sports. I love to be around the water.
Thank you to Dee Ann Turner for sharing a little bit about her professional and personal life with all of our StyleBlueprint readers.