How 1 Franchise Owner Created Chick-fil-A’s Highest Rated Product

The story behind Chick-fil-A's highest-rated product is an innovation masterclass. Follow these six steps to create lasting organizational change.

How 1 Franchise Owner Created Chick-fil-A’s Highest Rated Product

"Our organization no longer needs to innovate."

Said no one ever.

The question every leader and industry is burdened with is: How can we successfully innovate without alienating current customers or employees?

Now more than ever, a "this is always how we've done it" mindset is a slippery slope to irrelevance. Neglecting to change and innovate makes any leader or company instantly vulnerable to be put out of business at the speed of Uber.

Follow the steps below to mitigate the risk of change and ensure innovations persist inside your organization.

In 2006, Shane Todd, a Chick-fil-A franchise owner and operator in Athens, Georgia, created the highest-rated product on Chick-fil-A's menu. Here's how he did it.

1. Inspect Intentions

Does the innovation stem from good intentions?

Todd's customers were always asking for milkshakes but Chick-fil-A only served their popular "home-style" ice cream, Icedream. Todd didn't allow his frustration with the menu strategy team not offering a milkshake get in the way of creating a better experience for his customers.

Inspect the intentions behind the intended innovation to ensure it's beneficial to the company and customer.

2. Achieve Alignment (Values)

Does the innovation align with the organization's value or mission?

One of Chick-fil-A's values is "customer first" where employees are encouraged to go the "second mile" and provide services not common in a quick-service restaurant, like offering fresh ground pepper to patrons or assisting parents with small children to their table. Todd would be putting his customers first by providing them with the highly requested milkshake they had been asking for.

Ensure alignment exists between the intended innovation and the company's values.

2.5. Achieve Alignment (Product/Service)

Does the innovation align with (or enhance) existing products or services?

If Todd's innovation had included pizza or tacos, he would have scrapped the idea because it did not align with Chick-fil-A's existing products. Because milkshakes could pair well with existing products while maintaining product leadership with Chick-fil-A's core menu items, it made the innovation less risky.

Ensure alignment exists between the intended innovation and existing products or services.

3. Collect (Some) Consensus 

Does the innovation have consensus with one or two decision makers?

Before selling milkshakes, Todd ran the idea by a few key Chick-fil-A leaders who had enough authority to shut down the idea but instead supported his efforts. Involve too many people and Todd would run the risk of stalling the innovation. Don't involve anyone and Todd would run the risk of damaging the brand or limiting the sustainability of the innovation. Securing the appropriate amount of support is a delicate balance.

Collect consensus discreetly and strategically. 

4. Start Small

What small steps can be taken to test the innovation?

Todd started small by introducing the milkshake at his restaurant. He bought the whip cream and cherries on his own and began delivering the milkshakes to his customers.

Starting small provides favorable anonymity, which mitigates risk and creates an environment for the innovation to fail forward.

5. Verify Viability

How will the innovation prove successful?

Service time was important to Chick-fil-A senior management, so Todd ensured he could make one milkshake in less time it took to prepare two Diet Cokes. Customers were also surveyed and provided positive comments such as, "It was the first fast-food milkshake that actually tasted like it was homemade."

Identify clear and measurable success indicators.

6. Scale Strategically

How will the innovation be successfully scaled?

After the milkshake success Todd had at his restaurant, Chick-fil-A rolled out the milkshakes in 26 restaurants in North Carolina and conducted an extensive year-long evaluation. Customers of the test restaurants were surveyed, giving the milkshakes a 4.6 out of 5 in overall taste. Chick-fil-A soon rolled out the milkshakes nationwide, and two years later, the milkshake was the highest rated product on Chick-fil-A's menu.

As a Millennial and Generation Z keynote speaker and trainer, I help companies lead, engage, and sell to the emerging generations. If you'd like help solving tough generational challenges inside your organization, click here.


Ryan Jenkins



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