Last year when we met Olivia Efford, she was one year into the Leadership Development Program (LDP) with Chick-fil-A. At that time, she was working as a Grand Opening Supervisor poised to open Toronto’s first Chick-fil-A location. Today, she’s a recent graduate of the program and is getting ready to operate and open her own restaurant – Canada’s third Chick-fil-A location in Kitchener, Ontario.
We caught up with Olivia to learn all about her fascinating and awe-inspiring Chick-fil-A journey!
How has your job changed in the past year?
“After I left Toronto, I transitioned into the Interim Manager role. I was responsible for a busy freestanding restaurant outside of the University of Arkansas. The goal was to create a business plan with sustainable systems for customer satisfaction, food quality, and Team Member morale that can help improve the success of the business.”
What’s the difference between a Grand Opening Supervisor and an Interim Manager?
“One of the main differences between the Grand Opening Supervisor and Interim Manager roles is setting the vision and creating goals for the team.
An Interim Manager is responsible for ensuring all areas of the business are set up: operations, food safety, HR, payroll, hiring, training, scheduling, supply chain orders, supplier payments and more. Although you don’t necessarily need to be the one completing those tasks, it is still your responsibility to identify who will manage them and ensure that the tasks get executed.
As an Interim Manager, I was responsible for working with the leadership team for 6 months to evaluate the business and determine the main objectives. This was so much fun because I felt like a true business leader, leading a team of 125 people. On the other hand, as a Grand Opening Supervisor, you spend one to five weeks helping bring the Operator’s vision to life.
Ultimately as an Interim Manager, you work to ‘reset’ the Chick-fil-A restaurant so when the new Operator takes over, the restaurant they are set up for success.”
What important skills and experiences did you gain in the past year?
“As a Grand Opening Supervisor, I gained confidence in leading a team, improved my communication skills and developed my emotional intelligence quota. When preparing for a new restaurant opening, you come in contact with many different roles that are all integral to the success of a grand opening. If you are a Grand Opening Supervisor, you will be working closely with Chick-fil-A Trainers that are from across North America. It is important to communicate clearly with each trainer to ensure that you provide them with enough information to be confident in their roles.
As an Interim Manager, I got first-hand experience in what it feels like to run a business. The role challenged my critical thinking skills and my ability to prioritize the needs of the business. The most valuable challenge was creating relationships with a team of 80 to 125 people in a short amount of time.
I would not have been able to feel this immense pressure and responsibility of leading a business without the unique experience of being in the Leadership Development Program.”
The purpose of the program is to cultivate leadership skills. What kind of leadership skills did you learn?
“The leadership skills I learned during LDP were how to excel at motivating, engaging, delegating, leading and empathizing. However, one of the most impactful skills I have learned has been the art of influencing others.
For every assignment, you work with a different group of people, unlike a regular job where you are working with a consistent team. Learning each person’s expectations, preferred working pace, and working style takes time. This adds an extra challenge to each assignment, but it was one of the ways I grew the most. Being exposed to so many people’s work styles and leadership skills inspired me to learn from them and pour into myself too.”
What major challenges or learning curves did you face and overcome?
“My first two months of the program in New York City were a major learning curve. It was my first time providing support to an Operator as a Grand Opening Supervisor and I did not have experience in consulting an Operator nor did I know how much work it takes behind the scenes to open a restaurant.
The first two months as a Grand Opening Supervisor, I spent many hours becoming familiar with the areas of the business. I worked long hours to learn the systems and processes that Grand Opening Supervisors used to ensure a successful opening. Those first two months were taxing and intense but ultimately helped me succeed in the future.
Another challenge I faced was being away from family and home. For 755 days I lived out of suitcases and two bins that I would ship around North America wherever my assignments were. It challenged me to live a more minimalist lifestyle while adapting to new environments. Fortunately, you have many opportunities to meet new people and become great friends with other LDP participants that you meet on the road. I would spend my time off with fellow LDP participants exploring the cities we were living in, having game nights and enjoying the local eateries.”
How did the LDP support you in growing your career in the past year?
“Being employed by Chick-fil-A allows you to be a part of a community that encourages and gives you the tools to grow. I had frequent week-long visits to the corporate headquarters, called the Support Center, in Atlanta, GA for training. I received ongoing feedback from other participants, consultants, Operators, trainers and Team Members which gave me a holistic perspective on my development and helped me improve my skills.
The LDP also provides leadership coaching through a program called Building Champions. I had several 1-on-1 sessions with a leadership coach who focused on my growth and personal development. We also have access to an online interactive database of shared resources from peers and experts.”
How did COVID-19 affect your experience in the LDP, and were LDP participants supported during this time?
“COVID-19 encouraged me to think about the business differently. Considering quick-service restaurants are essential businesses in America, we continued to stay open while following the CDC and Chick-fil-A guidelines. I was very fortunate to continue working during COVID-19. It has inspired and reminded me to take care of those around me.
Also, the LDP team at Chick-fil-A Inc. sent participants a safety travel kit, complete with extra masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, a thermometer and other PPE. When the uncertainty of the pandemic started in March, LDP leaders provided a grocery stipend to ensure we would have enough food in case of a lockdown. Finally, we also had weekly Zoom call updates to teach participants safety precautions and learn from each other’s experiences.”
Why should students consider the Leadership Development Program at Chick-fil-A?
“The program allows students to learn about the ins and outs of the quick-service industry while becoming well-rounded businesspeople.” Students will also:
- Develop personally and professionally
- Work with other focused, determined individuals.
- Become confident leaders no matter what they decide to pursue in the future
- Always experience and learn something new
What skills or qualities do you think are important to succeed in the LDP?
- Effective time management skills aligning with a growth mindset. You have to look at every Grand Opening with a different perspective.
- True grit – some days are long, exhausting, messy and tough.
- Integrity – when times get tough it is important to do what is right, not what is easiest.
- Attention to detail – you oversee a wide variety of items from perfectly salted fries to properly accounted payroll.
- Adaptability, productivity and goal setting to manage frequent changes.
- Finally, stay true to your values no matter what other people say.
What’s the next adventure?
“I graduated from the LDP this month and now I’m focused on opening my restaurant! However, I will be interacting with LDP participants because Grand Opening Supervisors are coming to Canada to help me successfully open the new restaurant in Kitchener, Ontario.”