Chick-fil-A franchisee Kevin Williams discusses the value in failure and other lessons from his best-selling book ‘Irrational Kindness’

Finding value in the lessons learned from failed business ventures is a skill that many entrepreneurs work on throughout their careers. On today’s show, we’re pleased to welcome Kevin Williams, a triple Chick-fil-A franchisee and best-selling author of Irrational Kindness: The Crazy Pursuit of an Extraordinary Life. Williams’ three restaurants are operated in the city of Canton, Georgia; a rare privilege considering how guarded the Chick-fil-A franchise model is.  

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Hi, everyone. Jim Fitzpatrick. Thanks so much for joining me on today’s show. We are so happy to have with us on today’s show, Mr. Kevin Williams. He’s a triple Chick-fil-A franchisee and best-selling author of Irrational Kindness: The Crazy Pursuit of an Extraordinary Life. Kevin, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule there, managing and operating three Chick-fil-A restaurants. I’m sure our audience right now is now salivating with the idea of biting into one of the new Chick-fil-A spicy sandwiches, so thanks so much for joining us.

Kevin Williams :
Hey, I’m honored to be here. And you’re exactly right. We get the joy of serving some delicious Chick-fil-A every day. It’s awesome.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yes, you do. And you do it with a smile and kindness and the utmost professionalism in not just fast food, but I think everyone that’s in customer service always uses the Chick-fil-A kind of … that of Chick-fil-A approach. It used to be, I think the Ritz Carlton, but I think you guys have replaced Ritz Carlton now. And everyone says, you know what it’s like to go into a Chick-fil-A and how great the people are and how courteous they are and willing to help and so professional. And you guys have really done just an outstanding job. Some of the things we want to talk to you about today.

Kevin Williams :
You know what’s interesting? You know what’s interesting? Is the fast food business is extremely transactional, and it’s very busy and it’s very … People want their food fast and they want it done right. But the wonderful thing is when you can do it with some hospitality and see the person across the counter, it does change everything.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. There’s no question about it. And the willingness and whenever you walk into a store, you’re greeted with a big happy, open smile and somebody that’s bright and shiny behind the counter that’s willing to help you. As you said, just in that simple transaction. Of course, needless to say the food is just amazing. But I do want to talk to you today about your incredible book, Irrational Kindness. A lot of people that are watching us today know about the book. But for those viewers out there that are not as familiar with it, A) what was the motivation behind writing it? And what would you like the reader to leave with?

Kevin Williams :
Well, we get the privilege of working with about 350 people. Many of which are very young, getting started in their work career. It was a chance … I do a thing called coffee with Kevin, and it’s just having a cup of coffee where we can sit down with each other, the new people that start with us, and have a place to where we can talk to them and cheer them on in a journey. I find I know I like it when people are bringing me on a journey to help me continue to grow, continue to see the world in a different way, and that’s what we do. We really tell them, “Hey, you are original. God created you just a beautiful way, he created you.” He created a created us to really go after things and the beauty of failure we talk about.

Kevin Williams :
And so we are able to talk about these different things, to tell them, “You’re stepping into a journey that we want to be a part of for a long time.” And in that allowed us to really start telling the story of that where we can give them something to say, hey, here’s a little bit of what we’re trying to say. When you see yourself in the world in a different light, it lets a fast food company actually believe they can change the world. Truett Cathy did this when he closed Chick-fil-A on Sunday. It was totally irrational, but it turned out that what he would say was one of his best business decisions. The beauty of seeing irrational in a different light is what spurred this on, and trying to explain that in a way to where you can grasp what we’re trying to say.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. And when somebody hears the word irrational, right away the hair on your back goes up and you say, what do you mean they’re irrational? It typically has a negative connotation to it, right? Not necessarily a positive one. Talk to us about the idea of using that in your title.

Kevin Williams :
Yes. Irrational when tied to kindness changes everything, because kindness is certainly holding the door open for somebody or doing a random acts of kindness you hear that’s really in a fun way to do things. But to me, irrational kindness is a lot deeper than. It’s providing some grace to yourself and teaching yourself we’re on a journey together, or you’re on this journey today and finding joy in today. Vaccines are really popular right now. I want to get my vaccine for a pandemic, but everything when you talk about this kindness and seeing the world in a different light, there’s not necessarily a vaccine for this. It’s a renewing of the mind every day that we have to do.

Kevin Williams :
When you’re coming in there trying to see the guests in a different way, it really takes you to renew your mind to say, am I going to do that today? Am I going to see my neighbor in this way? Am I going to see my enemy in this way? The person I disagree with. Am I going to fight to see the world in this way where we’re not just holding the door open for somebody. We’re walking alongside them. And this doesn’t necessarily mean we’re sticking our head in the sand or we’re getting run over. It simply means we’re being kind and to understand each other in a different way.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. And it’s such a better way. There’s no question about it. Talk to us about the struggles that … obviously, you just mentioned the pandemic. There’s a lot of small business owners and businesses and companies and managers and leaders out there that are really struggling with these times. I mean, people are hurting in a lot of cases, and obviously we’ve lost over 500,000 of our fellow Americans to this terrible pandemic. But yet business goes on and it has to go on to keep America rolling, but it really affects people deeply. It might be a spouse that lost a job, or maybe you’re dealing with homeschooling your children now. And so there’s a lot more added on everyone’s plate as we go through this. But at the end of the day, you still have to take good care of that customer or listen to that employee that works under you or beside you. Talk to us about the importance of trying to stay clear-headed during these times.

Kevin Williams :
That’s great because there’s the realities of the world, and life is hard. And we talk about that with our team and say, “What makes life hard?” Just to explore what makes life hard, and the things you just mentioned are all part of it. But what we found too is we have … I’ll often say, Henry Cloud said this, “We’re ridiculously in charge of our own lives.” And what we can do is begin to look up and see things different. I have where I can wrestle with things in front of me. You ever do this? Where you’re just trying to solve something that maybe you don’t even have control over, like a pandemic. It’s like I’m trying to think … or news or the social … different things that I can just wrestle with. But you know what? I can do it. I can pick my head up and look at opportunities.

Kevin Williams :
Some of those business struggles or the way I’m viewing the day. When I find when I picked myself up and look in this different angle, I can see things in a different way. I see time in a different way. Maybe I don’t have to respond to it as quick as I thought too. I can see people that can come into my life in a different way. I can see directions that maybe I didn’t see before. And so all these things play into it when you start to take a deep breath and look up, and you start to discover new things.

Kevin Williams :
And I also found assuming the best. It’s like rather than just assuming the worst, I’m going to look and throw assuming the best and make some assumptions in a positive light in front of that, that changes my mind and changes the way I see things in a different way. And that right there is a tricky … is such a wonderful thing, but it’s very hard to do, but it lets us see those challenges in a different light. We just start discovering the opportunities in those challenges, and that really makes the difference.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. And sometimes you’ve got so much negativity around you. We all work with other human beings and they might be down, and oftentimes it’s hard to get them up and yet you’ve got to go on in this ocean of negativity in many cases, whether you’re an employee. It could be that you’re not over that individual. Maybe you’re not the leader or the manager. You can’t really tell them what to do per se. What advice do you have for those co-workers out there that say, “I want to have a positive day, and I’m sick of all you guys and girls out there trying to bring me down and only seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full,” as you speak about.

Kevin Williams :
Well, that’s the reality, but you know what? I often think I love health inspectors. We get a health inspector at Chick-fil-A, and I love health inspection to come into other restaurants. It lets me know what I’m eating is really good. It’s prepared safely, but here’s what we don’t have to be in everybody’s life. We don’t have to be a health inspector of everybody. You don’t have to grade everybody. You don’t have to be a score scorecard for everybody. You can simply cheer them on, on their race as you run your race and it changes that. When I realize I’m just there to support them on what they’re doing. And I understand they may not be on the same path I am, but hopefully if I’m on this path that I’m on, that they will be encouraged by that and I can be cheering them on, on their race.

Kevin Williams :
And when you start switching your mind on that to say, rather than feeling like I got to go change everybody, how about a switch it and really just encourage them on what they’re doing? And I find, we start finding alignment. I’ve gotten a chance through this book to really talking to people all over about kindness. People want to talk. We have so much in common. It’s not a world that’s as divided as oftentimes we hear. Really when we get to people, we all want the same things. We all are just on a journey trying to take care of our families, improve the world. And when you walk alongside and get to know people, it’s a lot different. That’s where our focus is, just continue to lean into people and cheer them on.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. Finding beauty through failure. I know that’s something that you believe in. Talk to us about that.

Kevin Williams :
Gosh, there’s a term wabi-sabi. Have you ever heard of wabi-sabi?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I haven’t.

Kevin Williams :
It’s the beauty of the imperfection. And so when we start realizing it … Have you ever seen a vase that’s cracked and maybe, or kind of wonky, and all of a sudden people will put a price tag on it of $100, and all of a sudden it becomes a prized possession. Or things that are just unique, become a much more problems prize possession.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure.

Kevin Williams :
When you realize that’s the way God made you and me, that the imperfections can be some of the beautiful things that we bring. And the beauty of those failures of going after it, of being courageous in a time and seeing those things that we didn’t succeed at as we’re going to take the power away from it and realize those are the wonderful things that are making us into who we are. And you have to see that in and fight for it every day to celebrate the beauty of the failure, which allows you to really embrace those different things.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, no question about it. One of the keys that we talked about to the Chick-fil-A success story is really its people. At the core, is really it’s all about the people. And you guys have been able to attract such great talent. Everybody wants to take a page out of that book. We would all love it if we had businesses and showrooms and such filled with that Chick-fil-A quality individual. What do you think your key to success is in attracting great people to your organization?

Kevin Williams :
Well, I think a couple of things. We care about them. Bringing them in and teaching a 16-year-old that they’re not just a commodity, that they’re actually a part of the business, that they are there to see the guest. As I said earlier, they’re there to see the guest as a person. And once they start making that connection of what kind of joy that can bring in themselves by seeing the guests there and really not treating the guest is just a transaction, it switches everything. When I treat the team member that way, and then encourage and challenge. I say we like to encourage them, but we also like to challenge them to be their best because I think that’s where they thrive. People want to be challenged. When we encourage them to do that, then they start discovering the joy in that journey and realizing that there’s more to what they’re doing than just selling a chicken sandwich.

Kevin Williams :
If I was just telling them to go out there and sell as many chicken sandwiches as they could, it loses a lot of the part of what we’re really trying to do as organization. But when I tell them how they’re making an environment where that really could, that smile could change that person’s life that day, we believe that people come to eat with us oftentimes just to experience a smile and have somebody to talk with us. Mother Theresa said, “Peace begins with a smile.” Yet we’re all wearing mask over our face, but they can hear that joy as we serve guests. And when we start making those connections, that it’s more than just the business or the sandwich, it changes it.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
And people remember how they feel about you. They might not remember what you said at the time, or maybe even what the chicken tastes like, but they remember how you made them feel. Right? And it seems to be an important factor with the Chick-fil-A organization as you just alluded to. When people come in there, they just feel good. Right? And that really comes across through the people that you hire. That being said, how long, how many interviews do you typically have to go through if somebody is wanting to have a career at Chick-fil-A? Is it just one interview and they’re hired or not hired? Or is it a series of interviews?

Kevin Williams :
Well, to get a franchisee, I think they say it’s harder to get the CFA than it is to get in the CIA. They get a lot of applications, but there’s incredible opportunities also at Chick-fil-A. It’s really a bit about, and same thing goes with getting into Chick-fil-A as a team member. It’s like really saying, hey, this is … if you’re just in it for a paycheck, I mean, we all need a paycheck. But if you want to be about part of something that’s bigger than that, that’s seeing, trying to look at the world and ourselves to see themselves in a different light of how they matter. And we all just want to be, to know what you do matters. I know I do.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Kevin Williams :
And I’m sure you do. We want to know what we do matters. It can matter the way you’re interacting with another individual. And when you can find that purpose in that, it changes everything. And so to invite them into that story and to make sure they want to be a part of that story, because there’s expectations that come along with that, but people love to be raised up to be challenged. And I think that’s what is the attractive thing to really recruit and constantly and go after people like that. But it is a relentless approach in business. It doesn’t just sit back and happen. It takes a constant effort to be zoned in on how important great people are.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. And that your organization does such a good job with their customer base and such, that it seems as though your best candidate probably comes from your customer base, right? People that have done business with you before and know the product and know what being on the team or at least feeling being on the team would be all about. And I think that’s an interesting situation where your customers that come in, the kids that come in, or maybe even the parents of the kids that come into to your restaurant to eat say, “This is where I want to work.” Is that pretty much the base?

Kevin Williams :
Yes. I have parents to say, “Will you take my kid and help get them responsible?” I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s what we’re for.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Kevin Williams :
At the same time, we want to really work hard as an organization to be that kind of place that really inspires and lifts up the next generation. I feel we have a purpose state. We say it’s to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that’s entrusted to us, and to have a positive influence on everybody, everyone we come in contact with. To us, that means to be a steward is to give that person the most, the best job they can have. I tell them when they start with us, I say, “My goal is to give you the best job you ever have in your career.” I realize you may not stay at Chick-fil-A, but what a goal it sets for me to give you the best job where you feel challenged the most and encourage the most.

Kevin Williams :
And so when we’re working towards realizing the next generation, how important they are, and they’re awesome. This next generation is so cool. They want to do things with purpose. And so when I’m talking to those parents or those, I go ahead and start recruiting those kids there. I’m like, “I know you got lots of options, but I hope you’ll choose Chick-fil-A.” And I think of it almost like … I’m a Georgia Bulldogs fan. I think of it almost like recruiting that college. I want to start recruiting them young and those smiles and those people so that they know they turn 16, they’re ready to come to work at a place that’s really going to help them be their best.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. So it says the guy that was making waffle fries right, with the deep fryer, now owns three Chick-fil-A restaurants.

Kevin Williams :
Yes. That’s the journey. It’s starting somewhere and just finding purpose, no matter what you are, what you’re doing. And giving yourself some patience and some grace, because things take a minute, like a career takes a minute, doesn’t it?

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Kevin Williams :
It’s like give yourself some time to grow and continue to go, and let that discovery happen by giving your best every day.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yep. Absolutely. I can’t agree more. Kevin Williams, franchisee for Chick-fil-A. Three locations I might add, and probably the most enthusiastic franchisee Chick-fil-A has. Although that’s a tough act to live up to because Chick-fil-A does such an incredible job. But I want to thank you so much for joining us here on the show. We very much appreciate it. Again, the book is Irrational Kindness: The Crazy Pursuit of an Extraordinary Life. If you have not read the book, get the book now. I think it’s going to change your life. Thanks very much, Kevin, for joining us on the show today. Very much appreciate it.

Kevin Williams :
Thank you so much. I sure appreciate your time.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Thanks.


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