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The power of why: Five keys to ensure comms understands and epitomizes your brand

Carrie Kurlander of Chick-fil-A

Defining your why and then hiring and developing a team based on that stated purpose is foundational for creating a healthy culture that allows you to communicate on behalf of your brand

Carrie Kurlander, Chick-fil-A


We’ve all heard about the power of a compelling “why.” It requires a bit of soul-searching, but naming your why can make the difference between a mundane or magnificent day at the office. And that certainly holds true for those in the comms function.

At Chick-fil-A, I have enjoyed building a team of people who share the same why for being in business. It unifies us, clarifies priorities, distinguishes us, informs our actions, and honors our founder’s purpose.

Defining your why and then hiring and developing a team based on that stated purpose is foundational for creating a healthy culture that allows you to communicate on behalf of your brand.

In hopes the philosophy that empowers our comms efforts could have an impact on yours, I highlight the five keys to our shared why.

Honor the founder

Our founder, S. Truett Cathy, was known for his generosity. He saw every customer interaction as a way of making someone else’s day. He kept a list of people in the community who were in need and would personally deliver food to nourish them — in body and soul. He was committed to having a positive influence on every person he met.

Cathy’s why was bigger than the bottom line. He built a small mom-and-pop restaurant into a billion-dollar brand, but he did it by emphasizing care for others, which sometimes means doing things in a counterintuitive way. He wasn’t merely focused on selling chicken and waffle fries — he was focused on building trust in people.

As Cathy so wisely said, “My business grew on my understanding that customers are always looking for somebody who is dependable and polite and will take care of them.” It was a mindset to approaching work. This mindset of building trust and caring for others is a healthy foundation for teams.

Inform actions

One of my favorite Chick-fil-A stories is of an operator who gains great insights about prospective employees – even before they exchange introductions.

The operator holds interviews in his restaurant and, on interview days, he will intentionally leave trash in the path of the building entrance. Candidates who notice the trash and pick it up demonstrate a natural heart for humility and service. That simple action communicates far more than any words that follow in the formal interview and typically leads to swift employment.

Empowering the communications team to express its why through actions that build trust usually translates to strong results. After all, in the PR profession, a good name is the most valued currency.

Create distinction

A recent report in QSR magazine concluded Chick-fil-A is “statistically the most polite chain in the restaurant business.” The report cited attributes such as making eye contact with customers, exhibiting a pleasant demeanor, and using “please” and “thank you” while interacting with customers.

Knowing what distinguishes your brand can also distinguish your team. For example, if a brand is known for disruption, the comms team should probably rethink faxing news releases to announce the latest product. It’s a ridiculous scenario, but it makes the point. How might your team distinguish itself in service of the brand’s why?

Clarify priorities

If everything is important, then nothing is important. There are countless requests, burning issues, and tugs from the business that fill any given day for a communications team. Having a compelling why is an indispensable tool for determining what priorities must be met to fulfill higher-order responsibilities to the business.

If you are working to build trust with your contacts, do what you say you’ll do in the time you say you will do it. Understand cause and effect of word, deed, and counsel. Live out your why in relationships, messaging, and planning.

Unify the team

Perhaps the most gratifying reason to have a shared why is it creates a bond that fuels joy and energy within the team. Cathy’s vision of having a positive influence on everyone is not exclusive to customers. It extends to, if not begins with, the team. When a group of individuals can focus beyond its personal needs, it makes for a healthier whole.

The nature of our work means the load can be very heavy. This is true for any communications team. Our shared why allows us to notice when someone else’s plate is especially full. In those moments, I observe fellow team members stepping in to bear a bit more of the load to ease the burden. These acts of service to others engender trust and affection, which heightens job satisfaction and shared purpose.

I describe Chick-fil-A as a culture of excellence wrapped in kindness. We work hard, but our shared why delivers a return in job satisfaction that money simply cannot buy.

Carrie Kurlander is VP of external communications for Chick-fil-A, a brand that has been ranked in the top 10 of Forbes’ most inspiring companies. 


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