In a recent post I identified four specific ways a job at Chick-fil-A builds character and instills positive values in the lives of teenagers and young adults:
- It helps them develop a healthy work ethic.
- It teaches them to cultivate resilience; this doesn’t come automatically in today’s culture.
- It shows them the importance of developing a seasonal growth mindset and becoming a life-long learner.
- It requires them to go “the extra mile” and deliver world-class customer service.
In today’s post, we will discuss what it means to deliver world-class customer service, which at Chick-fil-A, we call Second Mile Service. It’s one thing to have a vision statement that hangs on the wall in your office or an employee break room, and another to have a vision that is actually lived out at every level in your organization. They say leadership is 20% what you say and 80% what you do—and I believe Second Mile Service is the “doing” of our leadership.
Before we define what it means to go the “second mile,” we must first define what it means to go the first mile. Most employees, if they are good employees, come into work each day and do exactly what is expected of them—no more, no less. While there is nothing wrong with this, and it’s certainly better than an employee who consistently fails to meet expectations, this is only going the first mile. At Chick-fil-A, we want to do the best we can to exceed expectations, to go above and beyond, to go the second mile. As our founder’s son and current CEO, Dan Cathy, puts it: “We make sure the first mile is taken care of, and then we go beyond that to the second mile.” We often carry trays to tables and clear trays from tables when a guest is done eating. We aim to refresh beverages without guests having to get up and come to the counter, and we’ve even gone so far as to change a tire for someone. Many of you who are familiar with Chick-fil-A have likely seen these “random acts of second mile service in action,” even if only in a viral Facebook post.
As I teach our newly hired Team Members in our vision and values orientation session at Chick-fil-A Rockmart, the concept of going the second mile did not originate with Chick-fil-A or Truett Cathy, our founder. This principle goes back much further than that, to a book of ancient wisdom. Jesus was one of the first people in recorded history to teach the concept of going the second mile, and it was as radical in his day as it is ours (and whether you are a religious person or not, I believe there is something for all of us to learn from this principle).
To understand this, we must understand the times Jesus lived in. In his day, Israel was occupied by the Roman empire, and the people lived under the constant watch of Roman soldiers. Rome was an oppressive society. In fact, there was a law that any Roman soldier could, at any time, force an Israelite to carry his pack alongside him for one mile. This could happen at any time, and it did not matter what that person was doing; they had to stop and walk alongside this soldier, carrying their supplies, for a full mile.
Interestingly enough, Jesus did not tell his followers to “resist the oppressive Roman empire,” though one might think this would be the right thing to do. Instead, he gave a countercultural command: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:41).
We cannot ignore how radical this was at this point in history, but the principle is simple: Always do more than what is expected of you, and you will amaze the people around you. I can’t help but imagine what the Roman soldiers must have thought when they forced someone to carry their stuff for a mile, but the person willingly went with them a second mile. I imagine them thinking, What kind of person is this? I’m asking them to do something unreasonable, and they aren’t just doing it with a good attitude, they are doing double what I’m asking them to do!
Of course, in our business, we don’t ask our team to do radical or oppressive things. But as with any job, there are days when they don’t “feel” like doing what they need to do, days where they don’t even feel like going the first mile. It takes a person of great character in those moments, to not only do what they need to do, but to do more than what is required. This is what it means to go the second mile. By creating a culture and structure where this is put into practice by a team of like-minded individuals on a daily basis, we are able to help forge and shape each other’s character as we are all transformed into the best versions of ourselves.
Teaching our Team Members to become people who look for ways to go the second mile in serving others is one of the things that sets Chick-fil-A apart from other quick-service restaurants. It goes beyond just serving chicken—imagine how far a person will go in life and in their career if they instinctively look for ways to exceed expectations. Not only will it open doors of opportunity for them, it will make them better people, and make the world a better place! In fact, I would even go as far as to say that one of the major problems in our society today is most people barely go the first mile—and would go half a mile if they could get away with it. This “me first / do the bare minimum” mindset has contributed to many of the negative aspects of the world we live in today. At the same time, I don’t believe it has to be this way. I believe we can become people who look beyond our own needs, people who look to serve the needs of others, people who go the second mile. We accomplish this one person at a time.
Zach Thomas is an entrepreneur, Chick-fil-A franchisee, business/life coach, public speaker, blogger, and author of Leader Farming: Growing Leaders to Grow Your Business. His next book, Pioneer Parenting: A Guide for Raising Kids in Uncharted Territory, is expected to release in 2020. Download a free preview chapter at www.pioneerparenting.org/about.