Books | Change / transformation | Future-ready | Podcast

Podcast: The key to culture? Bet on talent

We’re jumping back on the culture train this week. As you can probably tell, I'm a big believer in getting your culture right. I’ve had conversations about culture before with Tom Peters, Karl Alrichs, Jamie Notter, Richard Silberstein, and David Barrett, among others — it's that important.

Really, there might not be a more important differentiator in business today than your culture. If you get it right, you'll have a leg up in recruitment and retention, for one, but you’ll also be doing business with great people who will sing your praises and be loyal to you, and evangelize what you do to the world.

To help us take this conversation a step further, I sat down recently with with Dee Ann Turner, who speaks and consults with businesses around the world on how to leverage talent and culture to create what she calls “legendary customer experiences.” And she ought to know. She spent more than 30 years with Chick-fil-A, including a stint as their vice president of talent and human resources.

In this conversation, we cover:

  • The secret sauce to Chick-Fil-A's culture.
  • Why great cultures are intentional.
  • Where great cultures begin.
  • What core values are (or should be) and why they’re so important.

Listen to our conversation here.


A blueprint for building a culture that resonates Dee Ann Turner is a pretty big deal in the culture world. She’s written a couple of books on the subject, the most recent of which is Bet on Talent: How to Create a Remarkable Culture That Wins The Hearts of Customers.

She also wrote the 2015 book It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and Compelling Culture, which offered a blueprint of sorts for how to build a culture that resonates in a positive way. Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse summarized that blueprint. He said, quote:

“Conceptual pillars such as purpose, mission and values will map the way to a compelling culture, but Turner points out it’s people who will live the culture out. At Chick-fil-A, Turner and others enroll people in its culture in three key ways:

1. Recruit For Culture

“Turner recruits people who identify personally with Chick-fil-A’s culture. Finding people who fit is one of the most important components of creating a compelling culture that lasts––and it’s also one of the most difficult to get right.

“Chick-fil-A’s proven talent selection process focuses on three C’s: character, competency, and chemistry. These qualities are harder to gauge than traditional factors, but Turner claims it is possible if you commit to deeper observation. For example, Turner observes the way candidates treat other employees like receptionists who are not traditionally seen as having any sway in hiring decisions. As Turner notes, an individual with character will treat everyone they come across with respect and kindness, no matter their position.

2. Nurture Talent By Telling The Truth

“Turner writes that nurturing both emerging and seasoned talent is key. Investing in the people already on your team is a vital piece of cultivating strong culture. Offering opportunities is important, but stewarding employees starts with one transformative practice: Tell the truth. In the midst of a world that’s grown tired of corporate doublespeak, conveying the truth in a respectful way when it comes to performance, expectations, and more is revolutionary. It’s also the kindest thing you can do for an employee, and creates a culture of trust that prizes individuals and relationships.

3. Engage Guests In Your Culture

“Chick-fil-A’s culture isn’t just felt and lived by Chick-fil-A employees. Chick-fil-A guests also experience the company’s compelling culture. It’s understood that every single person who walks through the doors of a Chick-fil-A restaurant anywhere in the country can expect to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect. Chick-fil-A employees have helped Chick-fil-A become just as known for its “Second-Mile Service” and delivering the signature response of “It’s my pleasure” as it is for delicious chicken.

“Every time an executive chooses to be last in line, or a restaurant staff member runs out in the rain to escort a mother and her children inside under an umbrella, Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy’s example of servant leadership lives on. Ultimately, Turner and others keep culture alive through inclusion and intention. It’s My Pleasure urges readers to think bigger than business, and to strive to build culture that reaches far beyond corporate walls to improve the lives of everyone it touches.”

End quote. Again, thanks to Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse for that summary.

So, again — and we know we’ve said this before, but it bears repeating — culture starts with your people. And it ends there, really, in a lot of ways. In this conversation, Dee Ann Turner shares how we should all start to think about culture differently and what steps we can take to make our own culture the envy of our profession.

Who do you think we should be talking to? If you have some ideas about topics or guests for upcoming shows, let us know by dropping me a line at

Or just say hi! I'd love to hear from you.



William D. Sheridan