Culture Rules - Mark Miller – Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A

3 Apr 2023

The people behind the voices:

Mark Miller

Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

The Employee Experience Podcast Season 2 Ep. 8

Mark Miller – Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A

This week’s guest on The Employee Experience Podcast is Mark Miller, Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A.

In his latest book, Culture Rules, Chick-fil-A’s Mark Miller shares comprehensive and practical tips for improving what he describes to Gillian as “the most powerful, significant, and important non-tangible asset that every company possesses” – its culture.

The book also dives into research his team carried out, which found that many business leaders believe culture is their number-one most powerful tool, but rank it as low as twelfth on their list of priorities.

Mark refers to this as a “reality gap”, and bridging it will require leaders to understand the criticality of company culture – even if it’s an invisible force.

“It influences everything – every decision, every action,” he says. “And the body of evidence is overwhelming that a positive, thriving, and vibrant culture produces significantly better results.

“Culture is strategic, not squishy. It’s an unseen force, but so is the wind – and you can harness the wind.

“Culture may be unseen, but the elemental components are known. Culture is the cumulative effect of what people see, what people hear, what people experience, and what people believe. “There’s no one in an organization more strategically positioned than leaders to influence what people see, hear, experience, and believe. Leaders animate culture.”

To hear more about Mark’s latest book on simplifying culture, listen to his conversation with Gillian now.

Want to discuss this episode further? Contact Mark directly on: 001 6786128441

About The Employee Experience Podcast

The Employee Experience Podcast, hosted by Gillian French, is the podcast series for leaders pursuing innovative ideas to engage and connect with their employees. Listen to trailblazers across internal comms, employee engagement, and HR share the best ways to connect with employees, build healthy cultures, and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their potential.

Guests so far on Season 2 of The Employee Experience Podcast include:

  • Jane Datta, Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA, on employee experience, connection & leadership
  • Debra Corey, Chief ‘Pay it Forward’ Officer at DebCo HR, ‘Recognition is more important than ever for our wellbeing’
  • Hollie Delaney, (Former) Zappos CPO, on why empowered employees are engaged employees
  • Peter Cheese, CEO at CIPD, on what employees want: the changing expectations of leaders
  • Nadine Hack, CEO at beCause, on connectedness and openness: a company’s most powerful tools
  • Pat Divilly, Podcaster, Author, and Facilitator, on why overcoming emotional disconnect starts from within
  • Hamira Riaz, Executive Talent & Assessment Director at Lloyds Banking Group on people strategy 

Gillian (00:02):
Hi, I’m Gillian French from Workvivo. You’re very welcome to the Employee Experience Podcast. We speak to leaders and HR professionals on how to best connect with employees, build healthy cultures, and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their full potential.

This week on the Employee Experience Podcast, I am joined by Mark Miller, who is a seasoned business leader, international bestseller author, leadership growth pioneer, and thought leader. He currently serves as Chick-fil-A’s Vice President for High Performance Leadership. He began writing almost 20 years ago and has released 10 books to date. With over one million books in print in more than 25 languages, Mark’s global impact continues to grow. Mark helps leaders around the world create their own high performance cultures that drive superior results. On March 7th, 2023, Mark released his 11th book, Culture Rules: The Leader’s Guide to Creating the Ultimate Competitive Advantage.

In Culture Rules, Mark becomes the first author to define a simple and strategic three-wheel framework with practical real-world advice for leaders to build and sustain high performance cultures. So listen, Mark, major congratulations on the book. I know it’s just been released and really is a great read, I’ve just finished myself. As I was saying, it’s my first Audible book so I’ll always remember it. What an amazing career as well. Congratulations when I was reading like 44 years in the Chick-fil-A, which is unheard of nowadays, which is amazing, and it be a wonderful role as well, the VP of High Performance. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that role and what you do.

Mark (01:39):
Okay, well, thank you, and thanks for the opportunity to join you today. I have been selling chicken a long, long time. I actually started in one of our local restaurants, a Chick-Fil-A restaurants prior to joining the corporate staff. Unfortunately, I was awful in the restaurant. I made a strategic career decision, which is this is not to be confused with career advice, but I quit because I thought it would look better on my resume to have left on my own than to have been terminated. So I went and got another job. Now, remember I was just a kid at the time, but this all made sense to me. So I got another job, and in six months I got laid off from that new job. I thought, “I need a job. I can’t do what they do in the restaurant, but they seem like nice people.”

So I decided I would go to the corporate headquarters and see if I could get a job. Which of course makes no sense at any level, but I was a kid. I walked in, I told the receptionist I wanted a job working in the warehouse. She told me to have a seat. Just a few minutes later, Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, came out, took me into his office to conduct the interview. And so people are going, “Well, whoa, whoa, why was the CEO interviewing this kid to work in the warehouse?” Well, 40-plus years ago, Chick-fil-A was not that big a deal. We’re a $20 billion company today, but back then it was much, much smaller. I learned that I was interviewing to be the 16th corporate employee. And if you only got 15 employees, I’m assuming the head man or the head woman is doing those interviews.

And so, lucky for me and lack of discernment on Truett’s part, he let me have that job in the warehouse. I’ve had trouble holding down a job across the business ever since. I’ve worked in a half dozen departments and a half dozen roles. I got to start several departments, not because of a skillset per se, I think it was a little bit of, “Let the kid do it. Let the kid do it.” And so, I would do anything. And so, it’s been fascinating. To your question specifically, about 25 years ago, I began to focus more and more of my time on trying to help our leaders grow their capacity. That has led me on this journey. I have written a few books, as you mentioned, and we’re just trying to serve leaders within our organization and leaders around the world.

Gillian (04:09):
Yeah. I think I’ve seen a lot of those roles emerging now, so you were definitely, those 25 years ago, you were well before your time, because you’re really starting to see the emergence be it termed high performance, internal high performance coach or internal high performance or organizational behavior or organizational psychologists. There’s different namings, but they are quite similar in the sense that it’s looking after leadership team or the employees within the organization and helping them with their capability and to realize their full potential. It was 25 years ago, you’re absolutely ahead of your time. So listen, you’ve written 11 of books. I’m in total awe because I’d love to write one my own one day, but I haven’t started, but 11 is amazing. Was there something that happened more recently that you decided to do something on culture? Was there something that you felt, “I want to do something on culture now,” and what was it that prompted that?

Mark (05:08):
Let me give you just a word of context because the same answer applies for the previous books. My team tries to figure out what are the emerging threats, challenges, and opportunities that our leaders will be facing in the future. Sometimes we’ll be even so bold as to try to look just over the horizon and make a strategic bet that we think a particular topic would serve our leaders and in turn leaders around the world. And several years ago while in the midst of that process of discerning and deciding, we realized we were hearing more and more leaders talk about culture. We heard more and more leaders asking about culture.

Now, in our organization, I don’t think that is a surprise in retrospect because we were growing. So scale makes it harder to create and maintain the culture you want. Our business was growing in complexity, which of course makes it more challenging to create and sustain culture. This was pre-COVID. We just said, “I think this is a topic that will become more important to leaders in the next three to five years.” That was our mindset. Of course, none of us knew about the pandemic. What I would argue is many people think the pandemic created a lot of problems. I think it surfaced a lot of issues. I mean, it probably created some problems as well, but I think when you put a culture under pressure, it exposes what’s there. It exposes strengths, and it exposes weaknesses. Think about a pipe that’s under pressure, the cracks become leaks. The weak points, the stress points, they become obvious under pressure. And so we’re very thankful that we had begun this work and were able to finish it so that as leaders emerge from culture I’m hearing more leaders than ever talk about culture. Unfortunately, most of them are talking about gaps, issues, and concerns that surfaced during COVID. We feel like we’ve got a ready response to those leaders who are attuned to what’s going on in their business and want to do something about it.

Gillian (07:32):
I think for a lot of leaders it’s a very complex thing. That’s what I love about what you’ve done in your book because they’ve actually made it quite simple and have broken it down into three rules. But what I’d love to just get in your own opinion is why do you think culture rules? It’s a fairly strong statement. There might be other people that will argue, but in your opinion, why does it rule?

Mark (07:57):
Okay, well, let me quickly say this, the title is intended to be a double entendre. It does rule, and I’ll answer your question, and we came up with three rules. It rules because culture is the most powerful, significant, and important non-tangible asset that every company possesses. It influences everything. It influences every decision. It influences every action. And the body of evidence is overwhelming that a positive, thriving, and vibrant culture produces significantly better results. So leaders who want better results, if they’re not willing to take a look at culture, then I’ve got to ask them why not? You’ve left the most important, most powerful tool at your disposal in the bag, so to speak. There’s nothing more important for leaders to think about and to work on if in fact you’re serious about performance.

Let me say this about the book. There’s not much in the book making a case for culture because in our research we found that globally about seven out of 10 leaders already said it’s the most powerful tool they have to drive performance. We didn’t want to spend a lot of pages convincing people of something that they already know.

Gillian (09:22):
Yeah, that’s really interesting because I agree 100% with you and I see the research myself, but then I think the practice of it is where the difficulty arises or the execution on it. Everyone takes it and takes the information and says, “Yes, I get it, culture is important,” but it’s actually the execution and the practicality within business, I think, that maybe falls down. I don’t know what to-

Mark (09:49):
Well, that’s the gap we were trying to close, that same research. We ended up either talking to, surveying, or doing focus groups with over 6,000 leaders and frontline associates in 10 countries because we wanted to know what’s universally true about this topic. They did acknowledge, as I just mentioned, that it’s critically important. There’s nothing more important in the leader’s minds globally than culture. But we asked them to rank their priorities, and it came in between nine and 12th in the US on list of priorities. And so, our team said, “We want to help leaders close that gap, that knowing-doing gap.” And that was the spirit with which that we proceeded to finish the project and actually write the book.

Gillian (10:42):
It’s brilliant body of researcher to just speak to… well, to survey 6,000 people. Was there anything that came out of it that shocked you that you weren’t expecting?

Mark (10:51):
One, I wouldn’t have thought that gap would’ve been as big between, “It’s my number one most powerful tool” and “It’s the 12th thing on my priority list.” That is almost nonsensical. But part of our explanation for that is multifaceted, but one is some leaders don’t think they need to work on culture. This was a huge surprise for us. There’s about a 40 point gap between what senior leaders think is going on in their organizations and what the frontline thinks. We’ve actually replicated those findings in other studies on other topics. There is a huge, you might choose to call it a reality gap. Even something as simple as I love my job, there’s a 40 point gap between senior leaders and frontline. Or this is a great place to work, there’s a 40 point gap between senior leaders and frontline people. I think we were surprised that leaders appear to be significantly out of sync with their frontline workers.

Gillian (12:03):
That would add up with your book and obviously add up with what we’re seeing externally as well in the research and what I’ve observed in my own experience and the research that I’ve read. There’s generally always a lot of leaders that would listen to this podcast and particularly like HR leaders as well. I think for them, you talk about it and you say that the culture is one of these invisible things, it’s hugely valuable, and we all buy into that, but how do you influence or what hell could you give particularly I think people leaders in dealing with executive teams or boards on giving this the attention that it deserves? Or how do you go about influencing something that isn’t really… You call it invisible. You can’t really touch it, but you know when the culture’s right and you know when a business is doing well. What practical advice would you have for HR leaders in influencing boards on it?

Mark (12:59):
I have two thoughts. Let’s first calibrate that all of those people you just mentioned want superior, elite performance over time. If you can get agreement on that, there’s no better strategy, and the data is stark and clear and compelling. So if you can’t get agreement that you want performance, then you’re going to have a hard time talking about culture. But how do you address with the squishiness of it? I would argue that it’s actually strategic, not squishy. It is an unseen force, but so is the wind, and you can harness the wind.

Here’s the other thing to keep in mind: culture may be unseen, but the elemental components are known. Culture is the cumulative effect of what people see, what people hear, what people experience, and what people believe. Well, there’s no one in an organization more strategically positioned than leaders to influence what people see, hear, experience, and believe. Leaders animate culture because they influence what people see, hear, experience, and believe. So move past the fact it’s seen and let’s think about, okay, what are its elemental components?

Gillian (14:32):
In the book you have three rules, which again, you bring it down and it’s so practical, aspire, amplify, and adapt. I’d love maybe to explain to our listeners that haven’t got the book but will definitely get the book after this, why you came up or how you came up with them and why each of them are important.

Mark (14:49):
Okay, so that’s a huge question. I’ll talk fast, you listen fast.

Gillian (14:54):
I’ll take notes.

Mark (14:54):
I want to give you again a word of context. We were inspired. First, we were overwhelmed, honestly, with the complexity of the topic. So the fact that we were able to come up with three rules, suspend your judgment for a minute, but we knew that it was so complex and we were actually inspired by the Navy SEALs, the American fighting force, is they a few years back were documenting their mantra, is what they called it. The first tenant of their mantra is, “Shoot, move, and communicate.”

Now, we talked to SEALs, and they would tell you that’s not all you need to know, but that is the irreducible minimum that you need to survive to fight another day. We then said, “What is the cultural equivalent of shoot, move and communicate,” and we came up with aspire, amplify, and adapt. And we think those are the three rules.

Now, back to the complexity, these rules manifest themselves in many, many ways. You think about in the game of chess, each piece can do certain things by rule, but they’re infinite permutations. And so, the game will unfold differently based on the uniqueness of the leader in the organization, but there are three rules. The first is to aspire. Share your hopes and dreams for your culture. Now, some of your listeners may be going, “Really? Have you got anything else?” Don’t tune out now, hang on. You may have already done that, but there are far too many leaders in the world who cannot clearly, simply, in a repeatable fashion articulate their hopes and dreams for their culture. They just can’t.

Gillian (16:52):
Yeah, never.

Mark (16:52):
For any number of reasons we’re not going to have time to get into today, but some leaders would say, “It’s in my head. It’s in my heart.” Well, it can start there, but you need other people to bring this to fruition, you need other people to help you make this a reality. So you’ve got to be able to articulate your aspiration in a way that’s clear, simple, and repeatable. The first rule is you must aspire. It’s not the most important rule, but it’s the first among equals. If you can’t articulate it, you are not going to create it. Aspire.

Second rule, amplify. You’ve got to work to constantly reinforce the aspiration. There is so much noise in the world. We love the term amplify, right? You’ve got to turn it up. You’ve got to get the aspiration above the noise that exists in the world for anybody to take it seriously, much less to pursue it and to engage and to rally behind it and with you to make it a reality.

And then the third is to adapt. And so many leaders miss this, and let me tell you why they miss it. Leaders love to get things done. I love to get things done. A lot of leaders like to check stuff off and move to something else. I like to check things off and move to something else. You can never check culture off and move to something else. But here’s the risk and here’s the temptation: if you have a clear aspiration and you amplify it well, your culture will move toward the aspiration, and you’ll look at it and you’ll go, “It worked. It worked.” And then we want to check it off and move on.

We actually, if we’re not careful, and I think this happens at a subconscious level, we want to cover it in plastic to protect it. We want to seal it. And if you do that, you’ll suffocate it because cultures are living, breathing organisms when they’re healthy and when they’re vibrant. So you need to adapt. You need the third rule, which is always work to enhance your culture. Always work to enhance your culture.

Real quick, again, because that was a big question, there are a couple of things that leaders need to think about. They might say, “Well, my culture’s fine, it doesn’t need to be enhanced.” Well, the first thing we would say is, “If they’re critical gaps, you need to attack them.” But maybe you have no critical gaps, congratulations. The second arena that you can explore for enhancement is, do you have a strength that you could double down on? Because if you are really good at something and you intentionally get better, you just strengthen your culture. Or third, are there any new capabilities you could add? We did this years ago. One of our senior leaders said, “We need to be more innovative as an organization.” Not that we were strangers to innovation, we have a long history of that, our founder invented the chicken sandwich. We understand innovation, but it was more sporadic, done by individuals, or maybe a team from time to time. We said, “We want it to be part of our DNA. We want it to be part of our culture.”

So in the spirit of adapt and adding new capabilities, we began to talk about that as part of our evolving aspiration. We began to do things to amplify that. And now here we are a decade later, and I would argue that as an organization, we’re much more innovative than we used to be.

Gillian (20:18):
But you flagged that with the organization.

Mark (20:18):
That was a lot.

Gillian (20:20):
Yeah, no, but you flagged it-

Mark (20:21):
That’s was a lot.

Gillian (20:21):
… with the organization and you identified, and that was how you’re pivoting and adapting. I’ve said that before myself in the past. I see it as nearly like you’re growing up and there’s behaviors and things. When you’re a small entrepreneurial company, then you go into a medium size, and then you’re into a larger, you do have to adapt some of the behaviors that would’ve served you well when you were younger and smaller, and that’s your culture growing and learning and what we have to do better.

Lisa (20:48):
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Gillian (21:18):
I’d love to start, actually, with the aspire bit. I had interviewed a guest a long time ago and he wrote a book on culture too. He believed that you shouldn’t talk about your culture because if you talk about it, people will start saying and holding you to it and nearly it becomes a negative. I’m not sure that I agree with him. I did like the conversation. I love people always challenging my thinking. I personally believe it’s important to know even as a person and as an organization what you stand for and what you’re about because then you don’t know if you’re losing it. But he was quite adamant that talking about it, naming it is instantly when it dies then because you’re going to be held to account to it and people will… I’d love to know your thoughts or what you think about that.

Mark (22:09):
Sure. Well, I would respectfully disagree with your guest because what you don’t want is people trying to guess, because a couple of things will happen. I’ve actually seen this happen, I’ve got some real-life examples where the leader chose not to tell people what was important. So they tried to guess. Well, the first potential trap is they guess differently. So then you’ve got no synergy and you’ve got these people pulling and running in different directions. If you’ve got high caliber, high capacity people, they can run far and fast, and they’re actually running in different directions. So if you don’t tell them, they could guess.

The other challenge is they could guess wrong. They could guess wrong. I’ve actually seen that when a leader confided in me that his people were doing something and he attributed it because they had misread his cues. He said they are actually together, even masse, moving in the wrong direction. Had another leader tell me that they surveyed their people, this was a similar example, they surveyed some of their key people, and the people were aligned and they were aligned in the wrong direction. Well, all of that’s on the leader, all those examples. And again, I have more.

I will agree with one thing that your guest implied: people always watch the leader. But, see, I don’t see that as a downside, I see that as an upside because the number one move that I would suggest that we can use as leaders to amplify the aspiration is our own personal behavior, our modeling.

The story I tell in the book is Alexander the Great. Some of your audience may be history buffs, fascinating story.

Gillian (24:04):
It’s all over the world.

Mark (24:06):
Basically conquered the known world in less than a decade. Started on that quest when he was 22 years old. He was known for telling his men about bravery and about courage. He reportedly told them they would never die with an arrow in their back, “Because we will never retreat.” Well, that’s fine, he’s a leader talking about core values, and there’s some value there. But he also fought from the front. He led from the front. And he was with them. Some historians debate how strong his army would have been if he had just talked about the values. Because they take on a whole new meaning and you get added trust and credibility accrued to your account as a leader when people actually see you living the values. I would argue, “I want to tell them so that they can see me model it so they’ll know it’s legit, I’m sincere, and they need to follow.” People do follow the leader.

Mark (25:14):
They follow the leader, so I would want to tell them.

Gillian (25:20):
I just want to pull on what you said earlier as well when you were talking about culture. I think you were saying that we wrap it up in cellophane, I think it was what you said, and it’s done. I think organizations try to deal with topics like culture in similar ways to task because you were talking about the to-do lists, which are sometimes complicated things, but culture is very complex. There’s just so many components to it. Do you think that’s a core reason why we sometimes have that with that 40, you’ve been saying 40 point gap, is that we’re trying to use a methodology where we tick things off and we think of them as complicated rather than this is a complex thing, so it requires a different way of being in a different way of working on it?

Mark (26:09):
I think you’re right, that’s probably an insight. There are a lot of things that leaders can check off their list, and they should. We’re compensated, in fact, sometimes for checking those things off our list. This is just something you can’t check off your list. It’s an always on, requires continual focus, energy, and effort. And if you mistake it for install a new computer software, check, improve the culture, check. Well, no, you can’t check that one off. I mean, you can acknowledge milestones and progress, but it’s always on your to-do list.

Gillian (26:48):
No, I totally agree. Again, as I said, we have a lot of listeners that would be CPOs CHROs. Is there practical things that they can do to assist with their amplifying? Is there things that you’ve seen work very well? We’ve obviously talked about role modeling being a key component, but is there anything else? I’d love to give people practical things that they can take away from missing to the podcast that they can implement within their organizations that could further enhance their cultures?

Mark (27:20):
Sure, sure. Okay. I got two thoughts. One is, go back to the aspiration. When you talk about amplifying, be sure you’re amplifying the aspiration in whole or in parts. So be sure that your amplification efforts are anchored to the aspiration. Because you can amplify all kind of things, even things that are good, but they may not enhance your culture, because people always watch the leader. And so, anchor whatever you choose to do in the aspiration. The second thing I would say, we talked about role modeling, and it’s storytelling.

Gillian (28:03):
Yeah, that’s huge.

Mark (28:04):
Tell stories about the people who are living, modeling, pursuing, and advancing the aspiration.

Gillian (28:15):
It’s an amazing skillset. I’ve just seen actually in Ireland now they’re reintroducing Irish storytellers. So they tell stories years ago, and I think it’s a real art form to have that skillset set to be a really good storyteller. But I think it’s really critical for our leaders going forward. As organizations grow, it’s a great way to engage people and get them to understand things with stories. You always remember stories. When you’re reading books, I’ll always remember the story in the book. I remember even with your book about Alexander jumping over the wall. So when they got over the wall, he was there. So you remember these things.

Mark (28:54):
Right. Right. Well, let me say this about that, and I agree with everything you just said, there are some leaders who would be intimidated by the whole idea of storytelling. They would agree with you, “Well, there’s a skillset there and some people are good at it, I’m not good at it.” So let me give you a baby step, maybe you want to work on becoming a better storyteller, but I’m going to give you something that every one of your listeners can do starting the day they hear this podcast. Talk about the vision every day or the mission or the vision or the values, some facet of the aspiration. Talk about it every day.

Now, that’s pretty challenging. Let me tell you where I got that. It was one of our interviews. We had the opportunity to interview leaders from dozens of the top brands in the world. There’s a list in the back of the book, it’s a crazy list of leaders. We were talking through a senior global leader from Netflix. I don’t know how much your audience knows about their culture, but they’ve worked really hard on their culture.

Mark (30:12):
Yeah, Reed wrote a great book about that. No Rules Rules, I think is the book he wrote, but fascinating. So I’m talking to this senior global leader from Netflix and I asked what I thought was an innocent question. It almost landed as if I had offended him. I said, “How often do you talk about culture?” I didn’t know what I had said because he was having all these weird facial expressions. As I recall the conversation, he said, “What do you mean?” And I asked the question again, I said, “Well, how often do you talk about culture?” He said, “Every day.” And he said, “Every leader at Netflix talks about the culture, some aspect of it, every day.”

It was kind of this moment, I said, “Well, they believe, as our survey indicated, it’s the most important tool at their disposal to drive performance. Why wouldn’t you talk about that?” It’s like if you don’t, you’re keeping a tool in the bag that is the perfect tool to help you get what you want. And so yeah, you need to become a master storyteller over time, but just start by talking about culture, some facets, some aspect, vision, value, mission, purpose, ethos, whatever you want. Talk about some facet of the culture every day. I’m trying to do it now multiple times a day. I try to do it in every meeting.

Gillian (31:38):
Over the years I’ve seen it is difficult for leaders. Some people are very naturally dispositioned, and they find it so easy, but some leaders are so uncomfortable. They feel like it’s nearly not natural to them. I think they feel fake when they’re doing it, but maybe it’s just their lack of experience in doing it. But my personal experience is it’s an absolute game changer and a game changer for the business and also for yourself as a leader because everything becomes more meaningful. When it’s purpose and you’re attaching it, everything you do then becomes more meaningful. Even when I started my career, you’re hiring someone. But you’re not hiring someone, you’re actually changing their lives and potentially adding so much value to the business. And so when you get into that mindset, it lifts everything, really.

The final part, the adapt part, and I know when people read the book it’s very helpful, but just for our listeners, how do you know when to adapt? You talked there about your innovation piece and you were sitting with the leadership team and you have a great relationship, you’re obviously working with each other a long time, and I’d say you’re very in tune with the organization, but how do you know when to adapt? What are the signals? Just for our listeners listening in-

Mark (32:55):

Gillian (32:55):
… they might be sitting there going, “When do I change, or how do I know to change?”

Mark (32:59):
Great question. And it’s… I love Q&A and I hate Q&A, so here’s my request of your audience: please do not misinterpret the brevity of my response with the magnitude of that question. Because I think leaders should spend their entire lives trying to answer that question, “What do we need to adapt? When do we need to adapt? What do we need to enhance? What are the strategies and tactics that we need to employ?”

But you need an early warning system is the simple answer. You need to figure out how you can put formal and informal mechanisms in place that enable you to better listen to your employees. And you need to listen to the marketplace. You need to listen to competition. You need to listen to what’s happening in technology. Because at some point, I believe, one of the things leaders are paid for is our judgment and intuition. But I want it to be informed judgment, informed intuition. Because if you say, “I’m looking to enhance this culture,” and it can be either to eliminate critical gaps, to double down on strengths, or add new capabilities, nobody’s going to send you an email with the answer. Now, unless it’s a toxin that has reached epidemic levels, then you may say, “Hey, this red flashing light, we have to work on this.” And if you do, you do. But the rest of it requires discernment and judgment and trade-offs. I just want to be sure that leaders are listening well. To adapt well is always preceded by listening well.

Gillian (34:46):
And it’s such an underrated skill and it does take practice. I did coaching years ago, and what I learned about myself is I like to talk, but sometimes that means you’re not a great listener so you actually really have to work at that. So it was a good learning for me. But I can’t believe we’re nearly coming to our time together, but I do have some quick questions for you. You’ve obviously written 11 books, but is there any book that you really enjoyed and that you would recommend to our listeners? Because there’re absolutely going to recommend your book, but is there any other book that you have found interesting?

Mark (35:26):
There are many. For me, it has a lot to do with the topic area. Two things have to align for me to think a book is great: content and context. I’ve read some books that I might not think are great today but I will in five years and vice versa. But with all that said, you put me on the spot, I have to name one book, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, which was written, I don’t know, 50 years ago. It is the source of the Nile. Most of the modern leadership stuff you find its origin. I think Drucker was the first one to write about those things. As far as I know, it’s still being used in MBA programs around the world. I bet it was published 50 years ago. But it’s a little paperback, I recommend it to every leader I meet. Peter Drucker, he understood leadership.

Gillian (36:22):
Well, brilliant, that’s great. Thank you. Have you any predictions for the future of work? I mean, we’re still in such a state of flux and still so much happening, but have you any predictions of how you think things [inaudible 00:36:37]?

Mark (36:38):
I think the future is bright is an understatement. I think the next 20 years we’re going to eclipse the accomplishments of the last 100 with the advent of technology, with the younger workforce. I am so excited about all the young people I meet. They want to change the world, and they’re talented, and they’re smart, and they’re gifted, and they’re articulate. Now, they do hold some beliefs different than my generation, and I say, “Great.” My generation probably held some beliefs different from the generation before me. I see that as an asset, not a liability. People ask me all the time about leading the next gen and I go, “I’m excited.” In part I’m excited what I’ll learn from them, but yeah, I hope I live another 20 years to see all the things that are going to be accomplished by the workforce of the next generation. It’s going to be exciting.

Gillian (37:40):
Yeah, they’re amazing. I actually heard something recently about reverse mentoring. I don’t know if you’ve heard that, but I think it’s amazing.

Mark (37:46):
I’ve used it. I do.

Gillian (37:49):
I’m so on board for it. I absolutely need it to help me and teach me. The final question I have is, what type of leader do you believe we require for the global context that we’re in now, living or dead? I know sometimes people have people that are no longer with us, but what type of global leader do you believe that we need?

Mark (38:13):
Well, thank you for asking. That’s my next book, and I’m working on it right now. Let me just hit it really quick. I think we need leaders who will pursue uncommon greatness. Common greatness is fleeting, uncommon greatness is enduring. Common greatness is focused on the achievement, uncommon greatness is focused on the contribution. Uncommon greatness is others centered, it’s often unnoticed, it’s empowering, it doesn’t embolden the individual, it empowers others. I think we have had these leaders with us throughout history, but they are in the minority, and I think they need to become the majority. I think that’s what the next generation deserves. In some circles, that’s what they’re demanding.

Gillian (39:12):
Yeah, I believe so. Yeah, that’s a really good way to look at it. Probably if I was to use the language that I [inaudible 00:39:21] be conscious leaders, but I like that, uncommon. So yeah, I’ll be definitely lined up. Let me know when that book is coming out. You can be in my next Audible. So listen, thank you so much for your contributions today. I’ve really, really enjoyed talking to you. I really enjoyed the book. Again, for all our listeners out there, the book is out there, it’s Culture Rules by Mark Miller, so definitely get a copy. He has an another 11 books, so you’ve lots to choose from there. Thank you so much for your time today, I know how busy you are. It was a real pleasure to speak to you.

Mark (39:56):
Thank you very much.

Gillian (40:00):
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Employee Experience Podcast. Subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcast, and check out workvivo.com to find out more.

The people behind the voices

Mark Miller

Vice President of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A

When Mark Miller began working at Chick-fil-A over forty years ago, he was an hourly team member in one of its local restaurants who went on to become its sixteenth corporate employee.

Since then, he has worked in departments across the company, from starting its Corporate Communications group and its Quality & Customer Satisfaction Team, to leading in Restaurant Operations, Training & Development, Leadership Development, and more.

For the last 20 years, Mark has been helping leaders grow themselves, their teams, and their organizations. In addition to his role at Chick-fil-A, he has taught and led in not-for-profit organizations globally and is the author and co-author of 11 books.

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Employee Experience Officer

Gillian French is a veteran people leader and organizational behaviorist with over 10 years of experience as Chief People Strategist.

She is passionate about coaching, strategy, building resilient and sustainable organisational culture, and improving global employee experience. She has also contributed to Forbes and is a regular panelist on the future of work.

Gillian is also the founder and CEO of SISU consulting, a business that specializes in organisation development and design.