#39 - Why culture is an invisible but powerful force in an organization with former Chick-fil-A Exec Mark Miller

November 7, 2023
Mark Miller

Episode Summary

In this week's episode, Aro Cofounder Joey is joined by Mark Miller, former Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A to talk all things company culture. He and Joey unpack the significance of the culture within an organization and why it holds more weight within a company than most may realize. Mark shares his insights into the definition of culture and the true essence of leadership, emphasizing that it's not limited to executive titles. You're going to receive practical tips and strategies from Mark on how leaders can cultivate and amplify their desired company culture. And for all of our parents out there, Mark and Joey even explore how these principles can extend beyond the workplace and enrich your family culture. You don't want to miss this one!

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Episode Transcript

Mark Miller (00:00):

One of the challenges leaders have when they try to steward culture, build culture, maintain and protect culture is it's actually hard to get your head and your heart around it because it is an invisible force. But to your question, specifically, culture is the cumulative effect of what people see, hear, experience, and believe. It's the cumulative effect of those independent elements. Now, the most exciting part of that definition is probably not in the definition, at least for us. If you ask yourself, who has the greatest influence in an organization on what people see, hear, experience, and believe it's leaders,

Joey Odom (00:55):

Welcome back to The Aro Podcast. Hey, it's Joey Odom, co-founder of Aro. I'm feeling good today. And you know why? Because we're in a brand new studio. Go to our YouTube channel, check out the new studio. It's super clean. It looks so nice. I'm really, really happy about it. I feel good inside and you're going to feel good after listening to this week's episode. So everybody loves Chick-fil-A right? We love their sandwiches, we love their shakes, we like their waffle fries. I like their waffle fries. I'm not going to say I love them, but a lot of people do love them. I love the Chick-fil-A sauce. But what I really love and I think what a lot of people really love is their culture and we feel their culture. You hear the My pleasure, and one thing you may not know is that took about 10 years for that to become part of the culture.

And that was all by Truitt Kathy. Just repeating, repeating, repeating, and instilling that within the culture. Well, we have Mark Miller today. Mark Miller is an author who was also at Chick-fil-A for 45 years, and he is a culture guru, culture expert, and he brings some real brilliance to the podcast today. So he talks a lot about how culture is an invisible but powerful thing, and it's this cumulative effect of what people hear, see, feel, and believe. And in ways it may be hard with culture to really specifically identify things, but you know how it feels. So he talks about how you can affect culture at the workforce. And here's good news. It doesn't matter what your title is. He talks about how leadership is a role, not a title. So he has a framework, a three rule framework, how to build and sustain high performance cultures.

This is really, really good. And even if you're not necessarily a leader in the workforce or maybe if you're not in the workforce, he talks about culture at the very end with respect to your family, which I thought was a cool translation. It does translate over. In fact, I requested that his next book is all about family culture, but Mark is a brilliant guy. Please check out all of his resources lead everyday.com. But for now, sit back, relax, enjoy my conversation with Mark Miller, the wise poet Drake. AKA Drizzy once said, started from the bottom. Now we're here. And while it's not documented, I think he was talking about our guest Mark Miller. See, 45 years ago, mark started from the bottom at Chick-fil-A working hourly, then making his way up to the warehouse and mail room, and eventually to leadership at everyone's favorite restaurant chain. Recently he also started from the bottom of the Renzo Mountains in Uganda and just like a Chick-fil-A climbed his way to the top, he now leads lead every day. There are over a million copies of his books out there, and he's going to talk culture with us today. He started from the bottom. Now he's here with us on the Aro podcast. Please welcome Mark Miller. Mark, how are you my friend?

Mark Miller (03:53):

I'm fantastic. Thanks for the opportunity.

Joey Odom (03:56):

Are you and Drake friends the rapper? Are you guys pretty good buds?

Mark Miller (03:58):

No, not yet. Not yet, no.

Joey Odom (04:01):

But he knows about you obviously. That's why he wrote the song. Well, hey, thank you very, very much. This is like a lot of Aro podcast episodes. This is just purely self-serving for me just to talk culture as we're building out a culture here at Aro. And the way that you have approached this topic is really interesting. We're going to dive into it in your framework, but will you start for me, just generally, and I think everybody knows about Chick-fil-A, will you just talk about the culture within Chick-fil-A. Will you talk really quickly just about that culture, what you've been in immersed in, and maybe even how you became a leader within such a strong culture?

Mark Miller (04:47):

Well, it feels like a pretty big question. Yeah. Chick-fil-A is an amazing organization and I'm so thankful to have had a front row seat for many, many years to the building of what I believe is one of the world's great organizations. And I think it actually illustrates what we're going to talk about today. Although I will say that the book culture rules that we'll talk about is not about Chick-fil-A.

We started that journey with a question, what is universally true about organizational culture? We didn't want to be so bold or arrogant to believe that we had the global best practices, so we went searching for them. We can talk about that in a minute. What was fun was what we learned as we talked to leaders around the world from 10 countries, over 6,000 people in our research project. What we learned from them is what I've lived at Chick-fil-A for more than four decades. So it was very, very affirming and helps explain why Chick-fil-A is such an amazing organization regarding how I became a leader. Yeah, I'm not real sure how that happened. I tried to take advantage of every opportunity that was presented to me, what I lacked in talent and giftedness I tried to make up for in hard work and doors opened and I was always able to assemble great teams. Anything I've done over the last 40 plus years, I can point to several if not dozens or scores of people who made the work successful. And so I think that's been my philosophy and approach for decades. Let's help the people that I've been entrusted to lead, let's help them be wildly successful. And that's been a really good strategy for me,

Joey Odom (06:50):

Which can be such a counterintuitive thing because that's promoting somebody else, putting a spotlight on somebody else and just believing that and just letting that tide rise your ship as well. Not that that's why you're doing it, right?

Mark Miller (07:05):

Sure. Well, somebody asked me a few years back a question, they said, what's your philosophy of work? And I thought, I don't even know if I have one. So here's what I told them in the moment. I said, if I had to own the spot, look back over my career, I would say it is, I always have a bias to put the smartest people I can find in a room. And great things tend to happen. Now sometimes those people are internal people, sometimes they're external people sometimes, and in most cases they're a blend and they're a mixture because the internal people understand our context and the external people often have very deep expertise forged over decades of work themselves. And so I'm a huge fan of bringing smart people together and see what happens.

Joey Odom (07:54):

Well, it does play out. It's pretty clear. And what's neat about what you said at the beginning of culture, and I want to make sure I heard this right, because it's really, really interesting you said in cultural rules. I know you did go, let's go take a deep dive into culture. And so did I hear you correctly say that when you got to the end of you realized, hey, this is exactly how Chick-fil-A has been doing it. Did I hear that correctly?

Mark Miller (08:15):


Joey Odom (08:16):

That's so neat. What a neat

Mark Miller (08:18):

Thing. Now let me quickly say, there are still many best practices that we learned that we are going to use to up our game. We spent three and a half days earlier this year teaching the content that we're going to review here in just a minute to all of the Chick-fil-A operators, all of their spouses, all of the corporate staff, and all of their spouses. So we had over 9,000 people together and we're students of global best practices on any and every topic. And this is just the latest example.

Joey Odom (08:50):

Alright, you said put smart people in a room. Unfortunately you don't have one talking to you now. So Mark, I'm going to ask a few dumb questions. Will you start at the very basic, just what we hear? I mean culture is a word. We all talk about culture and as if everybody has the same definition for it, but we don't. So how would you just very clearly and maybe simply define what culture is?

Mark Miller (09:15):

Well, I think that's a great starting point because one of the things we discovered very, very early is exactly what you just said, and we couldn't actually find a generally accepted definition. Many topics, you can actually look it up and there it is. And then everyone agrees with that definition. That is not the case with culture. And so we decided let's just create our own point of view informed by all of the work that we did. And we said that by the way, it is invisible, but that doesn't mean it's not powerful. And so I think you've got to start there. That's one of the challenges leaders have when they try to steward culture, build culture, maintain and protect culture is it's actually hard to get your head and your heart around it because it is an invisible force. But to your question specifically, culture is the cumulative effect of what people see, hear, experience, and believe. It's the cumulative effect of those independent elements. Now, the most exciting part of that definition is probably not in the definition, at least for us. If you ask yourself who has the greatest influence in an organization on what people see, hear, experience, and believe, it's leaders, it's leaders. And so the work we've done is for leaders to help them as they think purposely and intentionally about what they want people to see, hear, experience, and believe.

Joey Odom (10:55):

So a follow-up dumb question is who is a leader? Does that by title, is that by position?

Mark Miller (11:04):

No, no. I mean you can make that assumption, but there are far too many men and women in positions who have a title that actually aren't leading. It's about influence and it's about shaping the thoughts, the beliefs, and the behaviors of other people. And we all have that opportunity. It's much more of a role that needs to be fulfilled than it is a title that an individual would assume.

Joey Odom (11:39):

I like that. And you have think about that. If you can shape that culture, that's a role you can step into. I think we share a mutual friend, clay Scroggins, who talked about leading. When you're not in charge, it's something all of us can assume. Okay, so getting into, so this is obviously it's the cumulative effect of what people here see, feel, and believe. So it is critical to the success, but what's the direct tie in with culture into the success of a company? How does that directly tie in?

Mark Miller (12:09):

Well, culture impacts everything, which is hard to imagine. But again, let's go back to this invisible force. It permeates every aspect and every facet of an organization, every decision, every thought and every action is influence and impact by what people see here, experience and believe culture. It's the water that we are all swimming in. And the tie interesting enough that the data on this is very clear and compelling, but we didn't put a lot of data in the book because one of our questions that we asked leaders all over the world was about performance because we make an assumption that leaders actually care about performance. Now quickly, it varies from organization to organization. I mean, if you're a sports team, performance looks very different than a business person or a nonprofit or church, a school. We got that. The metrics and the objectives are different, but leaders fundamentally care about performance. And so we started talking in this global survey and in a lot of interviews and a lot of focus groups, we began to talk about performance perform. And we ask all of these leaders a question, and here's what they told us. 70% globally, 72% of the leaders in the US said that culture is the most powerful tool at their disposal to drive performance.

72% of leaders. So that led us off the hook a little bit. We don't have to talk a whole lot about why you should care about culture because seven out of 10 already get it. They already get it. So that was not particularly insightful. I mean we didn't know the number, but I would've guessed that a lot of leaders understand either intuitively or experienced or experientially what the data bears out is that healthy thriving cultures outperform those that are not. And again, it's almost so obvious, but here's the data point that got our attention and actually served as the defining moment for this work. We asked those same leaders. So again, I'll remind you and your listeners seven out 10 say it's the most powerful tool at their disposal to drive performance and we're making an assumption they care about performance. We asked those leaders to rank their priorities and creating and maintaining culture came in at number 12.

Joey Odom (14:40):


Mark Miller (14:41):

Now I don't know about you, I'm not working on my 12th priority. I mean I might just make a list and number it one through 12. I'm lucky I can stay focused on my top two or three

Joey Odom (14:53):


Mark Miller (14:54):

And so I would argue this explains why so many organizational cultures are in shambles is because leaders animate culture or not leaders influence what people see here experience and believe or not. And at least in the US leaders are telling us it's number 12. So we don't need to convince leaders this is important. What we need to focus on is how to close that knowing, doing gap.

Joey Odom (15:24):


Mark Miller (15:24):

Know, they know it's critical and they're not working on it. And so that's the direction that the project took once we had that data in,

Joey Odom (15:33):

And you'll have the answer. Well, it's funny, the term priorities, I've heard this and who knows if it's true, but it's one of those good stories that you kind of hope it's true. But they say that the term priority was only singular until about a hundred years ago. And then we made this thing plural. I say a hundred, 200 nos, who knows? Then we made it plural. You can't have priority means the first thing, right? It's the very first thing, the prior thing. And so you can't have multiple priorities because there's only one thing. And so certainly if it lands on to your point on number 12, there's nothing that's going to be done about it,

Mark Miller (16:05):

Nothing thoughtful, nothing intentional. You'll see random things happen in the name and spirit of enhancing the culture, but in many, many cases they're just not strategic and they're not purposeful.

Joey Odom (16:21):

That makes sense. And you'll have the answer to this, but what comes to mind for me on why people might not look at culture is one, they have no idea where to start. And then another thing is could be, well no, we did our core values six years ago. Why do we need to? What do you mean we don't need to do anything else, right? It's almost like do you think people with culture think it's like a set it and forget it type mentality? No, we did those things so we don't need to maintain it anymore. Are any of those getting close to why that gap exists?

Mark Miller (16:56):

Yes. Yes. And as you gave a couple of examples there, any number of reasons the gap exists. One of them is set it and forget it, but there's an assumption that we did as you cited core values six years ago. So we're good. That's actually one of the real risk is that leaders don't maintain sufficient ongoing focus and attention to culture and it just requires a leader's ongoing involvement. Now, the other thing you mentioned is they don't actually know what to do. I think we saw an example of that, I don't know, about 15 years ago. And I'm not trying to beat up on anybody in your audience who did what I'm about to say, but to me it is the perfect example of leaders that don't dunno what to do about culture, but they know intuitively they should do something. And you may remember this again, probably 15 years ago, the media began to cover the culture at Google and every profile showcased their pinging pong tables. I wish I had been in the ping pong table business because I think leaders all over the world went out and bought ping pong tables. I go into offices today and I see pinging pong tables everywhere. Now, I've never seen anybody play ping pong, by the way. I have been to Google's headquarters and I have seen the

Joey Odom (18:22):

Pinging table person, you've seen ping pong table

Mark Miller (18:23):

Person, they really exist. And that may have been the perfect strategic, purposeful and intentional move for Google. I'm not judging them, but I would tell you there are so many leaders who didn't know what to do, so they told somebody to go buy ping pong tables. That's what happens when you don't think strategically about culture. You end up with a bunch of ping pong tables that nobody uses.

Joey Odom (18:52):

That's right. And by the way, it would be very hard to get work done with pinging pong table with the pinging and the pong and going on behind you. So you've set out, so what I like about this and was you did what sounds like legitimately, let's figure out where this stands. And then when you found this, you had this inflection point where you saw this gap, you then set out this very, this framework, this three-step framework to go help with that one. How the heck did you do that? You read the book and just so it makes so much sense, it's so obvious, but how in the heck did you go formulate that because it is pretty brilliant. I want to get into all of those. I'm just curious how you went about even establishing this three step framework.

Mark Miller (19:39):

All right, so a two part answer to that. First is I referenced this a few moments ago. I had a team of really, really smart people and we wrestled with this question for months and months and months, maybe for more than a year. We had all this data, we had all these interviews, we had all this information. But again, I think at the end of the day it was the fruit of a lot of really, really smart people. But lemme tell you what helped us. It was a story about the Navy Seals. I actually write about this in the book a few years ago. They wanted to document their mantra. Now this was their language and they said that they had been moving at the speed of war, which I actually think is the same speed that much of your audience is moving at. The difference is they're shooting at seals. And so they called it the speed of war, but they said they knew they needed to stop and document what was important for the next generation of seals because obviously warfare has continued to change over the years, and they feel like they had learned some things and they wanted to stop and be sure they could pass that on. And the first thing they wrote down was, shoot, move, and communicate.

Joey Odom (21:01):


Mark Miller (21:02):

Let me quickly say that's not how you build culture. Some people are taking notes now, that's not it. But when we discovered that we were inspired by the clarity,

Joey Odom (21:15):


Mark Miller (21:15):

Simplicity, the directness, the action orientation, and the fact that it works. Now, I know Rourke Denver, the former commander of the seals, I was with him just a few weeks ago, and he would be the first to tell you, that's not all you need to know to be a seal,

Joey Odom (21:36):


Mark Miller (21:36):

It's what you need to know to survive to fight another day. And so we said as a team, could we find the shoot, move and communicate equivalent for leaders when they're thinking about culture? Because so many of them, and it is a complex endeavor just like being a seal, I would assume it's a very complex endeavor, but they had provided clarity as the first priority and it was succinct and it was simple and it was direct and it was actionable and it would work. And so we said, could we do that for culture? And that's how we came up with our three rules.

Joey Odom (22:20):

Well, which is encouraging and discouraging because a heck of a lot easier to write a long dissertation than it is to make something clear and succinct, right? That's very hard to go

Mark Miller (22:30):


Joey Odom (22:30):


Mark Miller (22:33):

Yes, I think you're correct, which is why I always try to surround myself with really smart people because on the other side of complexity, you can usually find simplicity, but most people abandon the journey before they get there. Now, and I'll also say, and you know this again, I think most of your listeners know this, there is a risk because if you take it even half a step too far, the simple becomes simplistic. And if it's simplistic, it's game over. It doesn't work, right? If one of those three rules for the seals was not right, it doesn't work. And if one of our three culture rules doesn't work or it's not the right next step, you lose. So that's part of the challenge as simple as possible and take it no further

Joey Odom (23:27):

Simple, not simplistic. That's really, really good. And you even went the next level and you made them ative too. So you got three A's here. So walk me through and of all of them, and I'll spoiler alert, aspire, amplify, adapt. Aspire to me is really where I'd kind of sunk my teeth in because it was maybe it talked about, we've all gone through mission, vision, core values, all that kind of stuff. The way that you started before that with Aspire though. Well, you talk about the first step in the three row framework, which is aspire.

Mark Miller (24:08):

Well, yes. The way we define that is we say the leader has to be able to share their hopes and dreams for the culture. They have to be able to share their hopes and dreams for the culture. Now, we talked about this at some length and we debated among ourselves really. I mean, do we have to state that as the first rule? Well, the reason we ultimately decided to include it is we met far too many leaders who could not share their hopes and dreams for their culture.

They just couldn't do it. And some would say, well, it's clear in my head or it's clear in my heart. And we said, well, it can start there, but it can't stay there. Because to create a culture ultimately requires others to embrace the aspiration and join the leader in making it a reality. And so if they don't know what you're trying to do, then the chances of them purposefully, intentionally, strategically helping you make those hopes and dream a reality, it's pretty close to zero. In fact, they could unwittingly work against you because they're going to try to guess what the leader wants if the leader's not clear and doesn't tell 'em what you're actually trying to create.

Joey Odom (25:35):

So that feels to me at least maybe if someone were to tell me to walk through what I aspire for the culture at Aro, it would begin to me probably in a very abstract way.

It would start from maybe, so Heath Wilson, who's a co-founder of Aro, people call him the head, they call me the heart. And so again, I would start from probably more of an aspirational, maybe abstract, maybe a little bit more of an emotional spot of describing what I want that to feel like. So how do you unearth that? How do you encourage a leader when you talk to leaders and say, okay, I need you to do some deep exploration to tell me your hopes and dreams for what this culture is going to look like, the cumulative effect of what people here see, feel, and believe.

Mark Miller (26:22):

Well, I think it can start in the abstract, but again, you're trying to articulate something clearly, succinctly in a fashion that is understandable, that people will embrace and that they can join you in cascading. You ultimately want everyone in the to be a champion and an ambassador for the culture. And so again, I think it can start broad and abstract to use your term, but that's when mission, vision, values, purpose, ethos, all these various mechanisms come into play. And leaders get to choose which of those best help you describe the place you're trying to create. And you can choose one of those. You can choose none of those. You can choose all of those. And that's usually a reflection of the leader and how much clarity they want to provide. Again, sometimes I would even go as far as it's a reflection of their personality,

Joey Odom (27:30):


Mark Miller (27:30):

You've got to be able to transfer this. And so how you articulate it matters a lot. And now I do know leaders that can talk for hours about their hopes and dreams, and I would say fantastic. Most leaders, you should be able to do that. But boil it down for me. I actually found a quote that is not in the book. If we do a second edition, I'll add it some in your audience know the name. Peter Drucker, the Late management and leadership Thinker. I would argue the best management and leadership thinker of the last 2000 years. Peter Drucker, in my mind, no question. Nobody's close. No. And he was asked a question about organizational aspiration. It was in an interview, I'll give you the essence here was his punchline. If you can't put it on a T-shirt, you don't have it yet.

Joey Odom (28:29):

Gosh, that's good.

Mark Miller (28:29):

Back to the point of clear, simple, repeatable. Now, here's the caution though for everybody that's hearing this. We cannot resort to sloganeering. There has to be substance, there's got to be a backstory, there's got to be a bigger story. But can you state it clearly in a fashion that is repeatable because you need everyone else to join you.

Joey Odom (29:00):

And I believe that we've, as I was reading, it felt to me like we are typically the traditional model is getting this backwards where we just go through a checklist and says, let's do mission, vision, core values. Let's just go through and do these things as opposed to those being, those are tools towards expressing what you want your culture to be, right? So do you think we are, we've gotten these backwards.

Mark Miller (29:26):

Yeah, I don't know if they're backwards. I think you can, there're probably a lot of examples we could conjure up about where you may understand what a tool does. Lemme say it differently. You may know how to use a tool, but you may not know what it's capable or intended for. There's nothing wrong with having a purpose statement or a vision statement or a mission statement, but do you understand what it does for you or what it could do for you, how you might use it? So again, understanding the mechanics of a hammer does not necessarily make you a master carpenter. So I don't know if it's a question of backwards. I mean, you said, are we doing it backwards? It's like are we using the tools appropriately? I think the answer to that is many leaders are not.

Joey Odom (30:22):

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. One thing that surprised us about Aro is that young families are adopting it in their homes, not for their kids to use yet, but for their kids to just see them use Aro. So we got an email from Becca in Dallas, Texas a couple weeks ago and she said, I've been so excited to jump in and build some great habits with our family, especially with having two little boys watching how we interact with technology. The way we model this to the next generation is going to dictate not only our relationship with them, but their relationship with technology down the road. If you're interested in learning more about Aro, just go to goaro.com. So once you have aspire down, once you use those tools at your disposal to very clearly articulate it and not, I do love what you said about no sloganeering, that's very easy to start making it rhyme and make it sound fun without having anything behind it. You move into amplify. Will you talk about that second step which is amplify?

Mark Miller (31:23):

Sure. And we chose that word for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is it represents one of the challenges that leaders face. There is so much noise in the world and we immediately assume noise is all bad. A lot of it is good. There's just a lot of stuff that's vying for the head, the heart, and the hands of your people. And unless we find ways to reinforce the aspiration to get it above the noise, people don't think it's legit. They don't think it's real, they don't think it's important. They might think it's the flavor of the month. If the leader has a past history of moving from one thing to another, it's kind of a this too shall pass. And so when you amplify an aspiration, well, it's when people begin to realize this is legit, this is not going away. Oh, my leader, our leaders are serious about this and I need to get on board.

Joey Odom (32:33):

This reminds me of, I've heard it true it Kathy, everybody knows you say, my pleasure at Chick-fil-A now, but didn't it take, I mean, how long did it take for him to say that again and again and again before it finally took? I mean, wasn't it

Mark Miller (32:45):

Like a decade? Well, yeah, he coached us. We have the annual meeting, I think I mentioned that earlier with all of our folks together. And from the first time, he's the one that said, Hey, we're going to do this every year at that event for a decade. He continued to reinforce that.

Joey Odom (33:06):

And now, and

Mark Miller (33:07):

We've got a video that's kind of cool where each year with the date at the bottom, and each year it's him on stage kind reinforcing that. In fact, year two he said, Hey, last year I told you we were going to do this and I don't think you understood. And he said, we're going to practice this. And he made everybody practice. And it's like he stayed on message amplifying the aspiration. And so that would be a great example

Joey Odom (33:39):

For a leader that takes a lot of things. That takes, to me, this is why you have to be so clear on the aspiration. If you're not fully sold on it, then you, it's going to be impossible for you to try to amplify it for you to try to reinforce it. So one, it seems like you have to be very sold on what that thing's very committed to, whatever that is. And then secondly, you have to be probably even vulnerable to do that. You're putting yourself out there again and again at the risk of everybody rolling their eyes and saying like, oh, here we go again. Here goes through it again on my pleasure. But you have to continue to do that. So how do you see, what ways have you seen leaders do this really well and what are some of the ways or multiple ways to amplify, what are some of those ways that a leader can amplify that aspiration?

Mark Miller (34:27):

Yeah, let me just give you a couple. The first is role modeling that people always watch the leader. So let's just take the truit scenario. What if Truit said that in front of the thousands and then when you encountered him, he didn't use my pleasure. That would totally undermine what he was encouraging others to do. People always watch the leader. And so role modeling would be, first, I would say another extremely powerful tool at our disposal is storytelling. Is storytelling.

What are the stories you're telling about the people in your organization that are making the culture a reality? A few years back, we were actually studying execution, and our team ended up with some of the coaches at University of, we were at Clemson, that's where we were with Clemson. And we were there to talk about execution. Again, I know they're struggling this year, but you look at the last decade, they've been pretty good at execution. And so we were trying to learn from them. And what we ended up discovering is they were trying to create a culture of execution, which again, we weren't thinking about culture per se, but the reason I connect these dots is one of their primary mechanisms is storytelling. And they said, every time the team meets, they tell a story of someone on the team who is living the values and who is attempting to make their aspiration a reality. And I said, wow, that sounds challenging. And he said, well, which part? I said, well, you guys meet a lot. He said, we probably meet more than you think. We meet, we meet a lot. And I said, and you always tell stories about players? And he said, sure. And I said, do you have enough stories? He said, we've got 150 folks that are trying to live out the values every day. He said, the challenge is not with enough stories, the challenges, which ones do we tell?

Joey Odom (36:30):


Mark Miller (36:31):

And he said, here's what happens. He said, the more we tell the stories about people living out the culture, the more people strive to live out the culture. And by the way, I referenced this in the book, Plato said this a long, long time ago. He said that which is honored in a country, is cultivated there,

Which is honored, is cultivated. When you start telling stories about people, you start making heroes of other people and more people are going to try to do those things. Lemme give you one more, and it kind of ties all this together. I call it strategic repetition. It's what Truitt did year after year. It's what the Clemson coaches did. But this was showing up over and over and over. This wasn't a one and done. This wasn't, as you referenced earlier, we worked on our value six years ago and we finished it. I was interviewing a leader from Netflix for this project, and I asked him how often he talked about culture, which he thought was a very odd and bizarre question. His response was, well, every day he said, every leader at Netflix talks about the culture, some aspect of it every day. He said, why wouldn't you? It's what's most important. Now, let me quickly say, I've had to clarify this for a lot of folks, culture is actually not most important. Leaders should care about performance, but culture is most important. If you care about performance,

Mark Miller (38:03):


Mark Miller (38:03):

Mean, the assumption is you care about performance, but the goal is not culture. Culture is an enabler of performance. And so this Netflix guy said, well, we all talk about, and then just to raise the bar, another story, a senior leader, his organization worked in about a hundred and plus countries, and he thinks the whole idea of talking about culture once a day is pretty lame. I wanted to learn more. He said, he talks about culture in every meeting.

Joey Odom (38:39):


Mark Miller (38:40):

I said, okay, so how does that work? And he said, well, he said, I'm always listening to see if the folks doing the work and bringing the work to the table are linking it to our aspiration. And he said, hopefully they will. He said, but if not, he said, that's how I close the meeting by linking what we just worked on to our aspiration, how this is going to help us create the culture of our hopes and dreams. And he said, and then I thought, well, that's pretty amazing. I'm thinking, man, I got to raise the bar. I got to talk more about culture. And then he said, oh, by the way, at the end of the meeting, if I can't link what we just talked about to our aspiration, I asked the people in the room, why were we talking about this?

Joey Odom (39:26):


Mark Miller (39:27):

Yeah. That's strategic repetition right there.

Joey Odom (39:31):

I think what I'm processing, what you said before, and again, my mind is going nuts here on how this plays out. You said that culture is not the goal. That's such an important distinction. Culture is an enabler of performance. And if you have that, and it makes me think that the reason why people when cultures get bad is that they don't actually believe that culture is, it's a risk to focus on culture. It's a risk that believes that says that there's a direct tie between the culture we establish and then our performance. And if you don't really believe that, then you're not going to focus on culture and it's going to show up and you're not going to perform well. So it is an act of faith to say, we have to do this. We know it's going to tie to performance.

Mark Miller (40:21):

Yes. However, unprompted, over 70% of leaders, if you ask 'em to think about it, they say, well, that's the most powerful thing, driving performance. So it is interesting.

Joey Odom (40:40):

It is interesting. Exactly. So why the heck are we not? And I mean, it makes sense. It goes back to reasons why we said before. And you said also that which is honored is cultivated. And as you cultivate that more and more, you begin, I believe that the people, if they're cultural misfits, if they don't fit in the culture, it'll probably pretty quickly weeded itself out. They start to almost self-identify.

Mark Miller (41:05):

Well, I think that can happen, but if leaders identify people who don't fit and can't fit and won't fit, then leaders have to deal with that leaders, which actually is a pretty good transition to our third rule. I'm trying to help us monitor our time here. We're good. Before we go there, let me offer a cautionary note to your listeners. If you have a clear and amplify it. Well, I guarantee you 100% your culture will move toward the aspiration. It'll work like sunrise and sunset. And here's the cautionary note's, the risk. I know something about leaders I've been leading for over 40 years. Leaders love progress, and there's going to be a real temptation. When you have an aspiration, you amplify it, you see progress. You may even think, wow, it's working. Leaders want to check it off, and they want to move on. They want to declare victory. And you can't do that with culture because there's actually even, there's a step worse than declaring victory. You can move into protection mode. And if you try to shrink wrap your culture, you'll suffocate it. You'll kill it.

Joey Odom (42:32):


Mark Miller (42:33):

You'll kill it. So the third rule is to adapt to always be looking for ways to enhance the culture. Always forever. You're trying to enhance the culture. And the first thing, I'm going to give you three or four things real quick you can do. One is you have to close any critical gaps because I mean, they're obvious to everyone. And if you don't address them, one, you're not creating the culture that you say you want to create, and you're destroying your own leadership credibility because you're saying something and then you're pretending that it's either true or that there's not a problem. I was on a call recently with an organization and part of their ethos that they're trying to, their hopes and dreams are a place that raises up leaders. And on the call, they said, yeah, but we don't do that. And I said, well, congratulations. And they said, well, why would you congratulate us? And I said, well, a problem, well-defined is half solved.

Joey Odom (43:44):


Mark Miller (43:44):

So you need to go work on that because either that or take it out of your aspiration because you're destroying your leadership credibility to continue to beat a drum. And everybody goes, yeah, we don't do that. So you're either a coward, you're out of touch, you're clueless, you're incompetent. I mean, there's nothing good from saying something and then ignoring those critical gaps, that's the first thing. That's how you adapt is you attack critical gaps. The second thing you do is you attack the toxins, which you might say, well, what's the difference in a toxin? In a critical gap, a critical gap may just be something you're not working on that you said you want to work on. A toxin is a pattern of unhealthy and unproductive behavior, a pattern of unhealthy and unproductive behavior. And you have to address that as a leader. Toxins left unchecked, metastasized, and they will kill unorganization organization. They'll kill an organization. But maybe you don't have any critical gaps and you don't have any toxins that are at a level that require immediate leadership intervention. That still doesn't mean you get to declare victory.

Two more quick options for you. One is you could double down on a strength. And you do that purposefully and strategically and figure out how to sustain it. And what you will have done at the end of the day is you will have enhanced your culture in the Chick-fil-A context for the Chick-fil-A restaurant that says, Hey, we want to double down on hospitality. Let's say we're already really good at it, but we want to get even better. But when you figure out how to do that purposefully, strategically, and sustain it, you now have an even stronger culture. So some of the folks listening to this, they can take something they're really good at, make it better. And you would say, yes, they've enhanced the culture. I got one more. You got time for one more?

Joey Odom (45:58):

I got all time in the world.

Mark Miller (45:59):

Alright, here's the last one. And I don't hear much about this, but it's a really cool option. So maybe you've got no critical gaps, maybe you've got no toxins, maybe there's not a strength that you feel like right now you want to double down on. You can always entertain the option of adding new capabilities. And I would say Chick-fil-A incorporated did this about 15 years ago when one of our senior leaders said, Hey, I think we need to be more innovative as a culture, as we look into the future. I think we're just going to need that. Now. We're no strangers to innovation. I mean, Truit, Kathy invented the chickens head, right? We understand innovation, but if you look at our history, you might argue it's been a little bit sporadic and you tend to have pockets of innovation or people who innovate and you have many, many others who may not.

And it was this leader's encouragement, let's change the culture, let's enhance the culture and become more innovative. And of course, once that new aspiration, that expanded aspiration has been established, we went to work doing all of the things that you would expect to amplify that aspiration. We defined it, we staffed it, we funded it, we celebrated it. And here we're 15 years later, and I would argue we're much more innovative as a culture. So that's another option that some people think about when they're thinking about, Ooh, we could just enhance the culture by doing something additional

Joey Odom (47:35):


Mark Miller (47:35):

Make us stronger.

Joey Odom (47:37):

What's interesting, and this may be obvious, this will be the obvious statement of the conversation here, but you just think about, you're talking about storytelling and how important that is within the amplify, and then you talk about adapt. And it requires, again, I don't know how to say this without being way too overly simplistic, but it just requires you to listen, requires you to be in touch with. You have to go seek out the stories. And when you seek out the stories you're going to learn and then you're going to celebrate it, and then you learn how to adapt better, is that, I got to think that that focus and intention and listening is such a critical piece of all of this.

Mark Miller (48:14):

Absolutely. And specifically I would say when you're talking about adapt, I mean yes, yes, listen, top to bottom matters, but you really can't adapt well unless you listen well, because you've got to listen to identify the critical gaps. You've got to listen well to identify the toxins. You've got to listen well to the marketplace and competition to decide are we going to double down on something? Are we going to add a new capability? I would say listening is the core competency under adapt. And again, it serves the leader throughout the entire journey. But you'll never adapt. Well if you don't listen. Well,

Joey Odom (48:59):

I had a whole slew of questions after this on applying this towards family culture. So I'm going to make a request right now that your next book is taking all of this and putting it within the framework of family culture. Because I think, and just can you give me two minutes on that? Can you translate these principles over to your own family culture?

Mark Miller (49:19):

Absolutely. Absolutely. What are your hopes and dreams for your family? And then what do you do to amplify that from role modeling, to storytelling, to exposure. If you want your kids to have a global mindset, whether you amplify that by taking them to Africa and Costa Rica and Mexico and other places around the world, if you want them to have a global mindset and a global perspective. Again, it sounds a little obvious in this example, but if that's what you hope and dream for your children and you don't do that well, where are they going to get that?

Joey Odom (50:04):

They're not

Mark Miller (50:04):

Going to get that on YouTube, right? They'll get other things maybe. And then to adapt to listen. Well, what's working? Are there toxins? Are there critical gaps? Are there new things that we want to add as a new capability that you discover as a family, as a child matures? And then, yeah. I mean I think it maps because a family is an organization in a microcosm. And so I think it tracks perfectly

Joey Odom (50:44):

Well, and it shows. I mean, I just know, even though we're talking organizational culture, I know just even as an observer of your Instagram account, I know that your family culture has played out that way. I saw you're climbing mountains with your son and it's played out, and that's the kind of thing that sustains over time. So you are the one to listen to for this, for sure. But that is my request. Just a small request, write another book, please, and make it and just apply all these to family culture. I think that everybody could benefit from that. Mark, we're going to order a bunch for our team. We're going through a core values discussion in December, and this is going to be required reading for all of us because it's too important. It puts you in the right framework, it boils it down to a place where you can follow it. So this is just such a good, valuable book for organizations and I think for individuals and for leaders, and like you said, that's a role, not a title. Where can people go? Will you give us your website, your Instagram, all that stuff where people can go to learn more about you, learn more about lead every day and order one of your many books.

Mark Miller (51:53):

Okay, well, thanks for that opportunity first. And I think most importantly, let me give your listeners my cell number because if I can serve them as an individual, I want them to be able to get to me it. And so my number is 6 1 2, 8, 4, 4, 1.

Joey Odom (52:13):

I thought you were kidding, mark. I thought

Mark Miller (52:16):

Seven. 1, 2, 8, 4, 4, 1.

Joey Odom (52:19):

Amazing. 6, 7, 8, 6. 1, 2, 8, 4, 4, 1. I really thought you were joking at first. That's incredible. I love it.

Mark Miller (52:27):

I'd love to connect with anybody who thinks that maybe I can help. And then there is lead every day. And lemme just do a quick explanation.

Joey Odom (52:40):


Mark Miller (52:41):

Not sure when this podcast is going to go live right now. Lead Every Day is predominantly a book page for Culture Rules. I mean, there's actually a store attached, but we had been working now for 10 months on the New Lead Everyday site, and it's going to go live hopefully in the next 30 days. And it is going to be a resource for global leaders, and it's built around three user pathways. We said we don't want this to be about what we're selling. We want this to be about what are your felt needs in the moment. And so three user pathways become a better leader, build a high impact team, and strengthen your organization. And if you need help with any of those areas, we're going to have just lots and lots of resources. So that's coming soon, but right now, lead every day you can find out more about this book and other resources.

Joey Odom (53:44):

That's fantastic. Mark, thank you. You've been overly generous with your time. Thank you for all of your books. Thank you for this. I know Aros going to benefit from it firsthand. I know all of our listeners will too. So thank you very, very much. And everybody go call Mark, give him a call two three in the morning whenever he's ready for you. Mark. Thank you. I'm ready. Thank

Mark Miller (54:03):

You so much. Thanks for the opportunity. Alright,

Joey Odom (54:06):

I don't know about you, but I didn't expect for Mark to drop his cell phone number there at the end. I actually thought he was joking when he started saying that, but how cool is that? Text mark, give Mark a call, talk about this kind of stuff. The culture stuff we're like, I've mentioned we're going to get a handful of books for our team so that we can read this in preparation for setting our core values and going through a core value discussion. But what a great conversation. And he knows his stuff inside and out, and it's because he's lived it. He's breathed it at Chick-fil-A. He's implemented it at Chick-fil-A, and now I'm so glad he's bringing that to the rest of the world in his work. So many thanks to Mark and hey, will you do us a huge favor? Will you go give us a five star rating wherever you listen to podcasts, whether it's on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or otherwise, we would really appreciate that very, very much. Thank you for joining us this week. We can't wait to see you again next week on the Aro podcast. The Aro podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod co. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support, and to our executive producer Aro's own, Katelyn Farley.