HR & Management

Billion Dollar Chicken Shop: KFC's workforce motivation recipe for success

5 min read

30 March 2015

The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop is a new three-part BBC documentary taking you behind the scenes from the kitchens to the boardroom of the fast food giant KFC. Rachel King looks at five people management takeaways.

I’ve always held a fairly dim view of KFC, based on its questionable animal welfare practices and profiteering while paying staff minimum wage for largely unrewarding work.

While I’m still not convinced that the 23m chickens it produces each year have a good standard of life living on excrement-soak sawdust in cramped, light-starved conditions, the way KFC motivates its staff does deserve credit.

KFC employs 24,000 staff across 859 stores in the UK, many of which are under 22 years of age. While I’ve always imagined its staff to be largely unhappy and uninspired, the documentary reveals amazing company culture where staff appear happy and highly motivated with a great sense of team spirit. In fact, KFC’s company culture won the Gold Award in the HR Excellence Awards 2013, so what’s it’s recipe for success?

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Although KFC is a huge corporate organisation, it relies on simple people management practices which can also have a similar impact in small to medium sized businesses.

Here are five people management nuggets to take-away from the Billion Dollar Chicken Shop:

1. The power of positive praise 

With most of its staff on minimum wage, KFC candidly admits that coming down hard when an individual’s performance dips isn’t likely to get the best out of them.

Instead, it champions a policy of positive-praise where good work and development are openly praised and acknowledged, while negatives are rarely dwelled upon.

As a result staff clearly feel good about the work they do, which can only have a positive impact on their productivity and wellbeing.

2. Managers muck-in 

The flat management structure may work in certain organisations, but at KFC it’s refreshing to see managers getting stuck in on the shop floor when duty calls. An ethos personified by the relentlessly positive quality excellence assessor Brian, who frequently calls on his years of experience behind the KFC stove to help out when service is struggling in a branch he’s assessing. Brian’s pragmatic view: “Everyone has a bad day”.

3. Gamification in action 

Money may be the great motivator, but when pay rises and bonuses just aren’t available providing employees with structured personal development is essential for keeping them engaged and happy.

With growth at the heart of everything KFC does, the fast-food retailer makes sure that its top performers get the praise they deserve in the form of winner’s medals.

This may be a bit of fun, but the medals provide staff with a tangible proof of achievement which lifts morale and gives others something to aim at.

4. Healthy competition gets results

The managers of each KFC outlet, like managers in every business, have targets to hit and performance standards to maintain.

As another motivational lever, KFC regularly holds glitzy award evenings where regional managers and staff from across the country come together to receive Oscar-style awards for outstanding achievement.

This national recognition within the organisation not only motivates its regional units to strive to meet and beat their targets, but the glamorous night out helps to foster a fantastic company culture.

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5. KFC – one big family 

Despite working in small teams, KFC has successfully created a company culture within which its employees feel part of a big family.

The management have created tight-knit teams where work is fun and rewarding, while individual achievement is given the platform to be recognised all the way up to national level.

Summary 

The work might not be rocket-science and the pay far from great, but what KFC demonstrates so perfectly is that money isn’t the only thing that can motivate employees.

Praise, acknowledgement and a clear personal development process combined with a positive company culture can make any business a place where people want to work and really buy-in to your company mission.

Rachel King is customer success director at breatheHR.

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