Making People a Cornerstone of the Brand

Peer Practices
Written by Katie Gifford

Karen Viera

SVP & Chief People Officer

Church’s Chicken

When Church's Chicken decided to rebrand and relaunch its restaurants to reflect its Texas heritage, Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer Karen Viera actively searched for the employee connection to the brand. Founded in San Antonio in 1952, Church's is one of the largest quick-service restaurant chains in the world. 

"Our employees are the heart of the organization and the strength of the brand," Viera says. "We were in the process of thinking through what the brand looks like externally to the guest, but for me, I felt like we needed to solidify a vision and a brand for the people that were inside our restaurants, too." 

And so Viera – along with many internal stakeholders and team members – launched an effort "to marry the brand and the external vision to a people brand with our employees," as she puts it. 


Putting People at the Forefront of Our Texas Way

According to Church's, the purpose of Our Texas Way was to create an innovative program designed to increase employee engagement and build team-member pride. As Viera explains, "We were in the process of launching a new restaurant design, looking at the external design, and what that looks like to the guests." 

Viera wanted to connect that external brand to the employee experience, too. "The brand is the image and personality – and our people are the spirit that brings it to life for our guests," she continues.

The Church's team began by creating an employee value proposition based on an internal survey and focus groups. Viera included domestic and international employees, along with franchisees, to ensure that the outcome would resonate with everyone. The resulting value proposition based on this feedback was: "Building Friendships and a Future with our Down Home pride." 

"Building a future says a lot," Viera says. "They want a career; they want growth." Through the focus groups to create Our Texas Way, she uncovered what was most valuable to employees and how they take action every day in the restaurants: 

  • We invite people in. 
  • We build each other up. 
  • We do good and keep gettin' better. 
  • We give back.


What Else They Learned Along the Way

As part of the extensive employee research, Viera and her team asked people what things they would change about their jobs if given a chance. The surprising top answer? New uniforms. This offered another opportunity for employees to be at the core of the rebranding process. Viera included them in the uniform design and fabric selection – right down to modeling the new style at the brand rollout to the company.

The team began with the employee value proposition and uniforms, and then Viera and her team knew they had enough of an understanding of their audience to work on the framework. The biggest challenge, according to Viera, was "fighting for something that's never been clearly defined and branded in a company that's more than 50 years old." 

"I think you have to be absolutely committed," she continues. "I was clear on the path that it needed to come from our employees, and I needed to hear what they valued. But it was a little frightening not knowing what that end vision was going to look like exactly. I advocated for and trusted that the process would guide us to the right outcome."

Now, Church's has succeeded in updating their training and onboarding materials and created an ongoing, employee-first take on everything, including greater flexibility with payment options and scheduling. 

Another key takeaway that Viera learned along the way: "This was a project sponsored by HR, in partnership with Marketing and Operations, as I didn't want it to be an 'HR project.' I wanted it to come from our employees and the employees of our franchisees to truly be a cross-functional corporate initiative." 


Benefits of a Strong Employee Connection

Prior to this year, Church's had reduced employee turnover by 15%. "I can't say that it was just the Our Texas Way people-first brand," Viera explains. "But, many employees have told me they felt very good about belonging to an organization where people are part of the equation, and they feel pride in being a restaurant employee."

Church's also continues to see significant improvement in its guest services scores. "When your guest satisfaction scores go up, I think it's a reflection of how the employees are feeling," Viera notes.

In addition, Viera sees the initiative's results in their people-first approach to COVID-19 and safety concerns. "Everything we do around safety and COVID-19 has to do with a people-first strategy. We've been flexible. If they've been concerned about COVID, we've tried to reduce their hours or limit their days." 

Viera adds that the people-centric approach extends throughout all aspects of the organization. She says, "It's cemented as part of our company now, and none of us could think of not having it as part of our culture." 


Special thanks to Karen Viera and Church’s Chicken.

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