This is part of our ongoing series, Interviews with Learning Leaders.
Karen Kay is a Senior Principle Program Lead for Chick-fil-A, Inc., a Goizueta Business School graduate, a certified Project Management Professional and Prosci Change Management Professional. Karen has more than 10 years of experience consulting in the public and private sectors, with a focus on improving organizational effectiveness to drive bottom-line results. She is motivated to equip and empower employees and leaders for success.
Karen has focused her time at Chick-fil-A on consulting innovation by helping position people, processes, and technology to best support current and future needs of Chick-fil-A Operators.Personally, Karen is a proud wife to her husband, Rob, and a proud mother to her children, Ethan (3) and Eva (1). When Karen is not working, she most enjoys time with her family, being outdoors, and serving on her church council.What is unique about your organization as it relates to L&D?
When you join Chick-fil-A, you join a family. For the most part, people are here for life. What that means is rather than 4 or 5 learner profiles, we have over a dozen, varying based on when someone was hired and what was required of their role at that time. The skill sets, experiences, expectations, and habits are all incredibly unique and all expect different things from “training.”
Our consultant development professionals become trainers and influencers. We have to think through where the future is headed. How do we build and train to align behavior and expectations for the future?
An example of this is virtual consulting. Relationships matter, and with the growing complexity of the business, the speed Operators need information, and the sheer number of restaurants we have, we must think differently about how we maintain relationships, solve problems, and share information. In the past, internal consulting with Operators was always face-to-face. In the future, we are testing out virtual consulting. How do we use drones and security footage to help us with consulting virtually when appropriate? We’ve created a virtual consulting room, with digital whiteboards, cameras, and audio setup. All of this is new and innovative, but the challenge is how to maintain the personalized relationship with the Operator—it is harder virtually. We want people to still feel cared for and supported, and to give them attention while we help to satisfy the business needs. We know some consultants and Operators will jump on board quickly while others may never come around, and we have to be okay with that.
How do you make sure you are aligned with company leadership?
There is a journey to influence. Our culture is one of respect and honor, especially for our leaders, so buy-in is critical. Employees look to them—if they aren’t reinforcing the training and new direction, it doesn’t happen in the field. And then we won’t see the effectiveness we need. We follow a simple equation—Q x A = E—Quality times Acceptance equals Effectiveness.
The quality piece is easy—we can build a model for a quality outcome, as we have exceptionally bright individuals who work for Chick-fil-A. But how do we beef up acceptance to get effectiveness? L&D requires a significant amount of change management. We must understand that our training audience, the consultants, are most greatly influenced by their direct supervisors. We must also understand that supervisors go through the experience as a learner before we can ask them to support something wholeheartedly. If we run too fast and don’t build this into our model, we get out of alignment and it creates a difficult road ahead to effectiveness.
What inspires you in your role?
If you spend 5 minutes during the lunch rush in any Chick-fil-A restaurant, you will get a sense for just how hard our Operators and Team Members are working to create remarkable experiences for the billion plus touch points we have with customers each year.
We have a saying at the support center, that there are no cash registers at 5200 Buffington Road (our corporate address), and if you aren’t selling chicken then you need to do everything you can for those who are.
That is what drives me, knowing that the business would keep on running fine without me, but I get to support the folks who the business couldn’t run without—our Operators, Team Members, and customers—those heroes of Chick-fil-A. Day-in and day-out they laboriously create for customers what we all know and have come to love about Chick-fil-A: a first-class guest experience where you are cared for as a person.
What are "watch-outs" you deal with regularly?
As a learning team, we must understand the entire ecosystem we are playing in. Our “customers,” the consultants, are focused on supporting our Operators and anything that takes them out of the field can be considered a distraction. We must ensure we are training on what really matters and what is relevant to our Operators. A lot of times, that means training needs to happen step by step.
We may see a longer end goal, but if we rush it, or paint a picture too far ahead, it doesn’t work. We need to put ourselves in their shoes, and ensure our training is relevant, timely, and actionable so they can turn around and apply it right away in the field.
We also need to be sensitive to history, respecting and honoring the past. With the longevity in personnel, the creator of the existing process or training is probably still here. We need to honor that the approach they used was appropriate for their season, but also recognize that what got us here won’t get us to where we are going.
What is the first thing you would tell a new L&D professional at Chick-fil-A who wanted to improve their credentials and influence with their company’s leaders?
It is a marathon, not a sprint. When Chick-fil-A, Inc. invests in you, they do it as family. They want and expect that you will take the time to get to know the history and stories behind the people and the brand before you jump right into churning out results. Relational equity and an understanding of the field will take you far.
Any final thoughts you want to leave us with?
Meet the learner where they are, walk step-by-step to take them where you know is possible, but they may think is impossible, and dig in when it gets hard. We are all uniquely gifted and when we bring our gifts together and support each other selflessly, we just might achieve the impossible!