Build a Workplace That Drives Profit

A leading expert on customer experience and employee engagement, Michel Falcon shares tried and tested strategies to build a people-first culture.

February 12, 2020

By Erin Pressley

MIAMI BEACH, Fla.—When he was younger, NACS Leadership Forum speaker Michel Falcon worked hard to pay for a college degree, but the academics weren’t resonating with him and he knew there had to be another way to learn how to build a business. Eventually, he got a job at 1-800-Got-Junk? Largely driving his decision was a quote from owner and CEO Brian Scudamore posted on the wall of the company HQ: “It’s all about people.” Falcon joined the team hoping to learn about entrepreneurship and business, and during his five years there discovered that company culture was mandatory for running a business.  

Many years later, Falcon is at the helm of a $40 million company, running several restaurants and employing more than 300 people. His book, People-First Culture: Build a Lasting Business by Shifting Your Focus From Profits to People, came out last year and he shared some of his insights with Leadership Forum attendees.

“Regardless of the industry or size or whatever we have in common, it is our responsibility as leaders to manage the behaviors and expectations of our people,” said Falcon. If a company wants to build an admired brand, it needs to identify what it wants the market to see and feel when they see that brand. It has to evoke emotion and that emotion has to be positive. To get there, companies must embrace a people-first culture.

“A people-first culture is simple to understand,” Falcon said, “It’s about building a business that is admired by customers, employees and the communities you reside within.” After all, he said, “We want our employees to be engaged every day—not just on payday.” So, why, if this is what employers want, do companies fall short?

Falcon advises companies to start with purpose: “What is the purpose of your company?  And it can't be about making money—your team won’t align around it.”  And his company’s mission: to consistency deliver seamless experiences (to anyone, whether customers, colleagues, suppliers).

Most companies have a mission, vision and values—“But how often do we integrate values into hiring?” Falcon asked. He has his company’s five values embroidered into the seams of every apron worn by staff and visits his restaurant locations regularly, always quizzing staff on the values—if they forget, he has them stop what they are doing and memorize them before coming back onto the floor.

“If employees know the purpose of our company and then create alignment and bring purpose to the team as individuals, then authentic engagement will follow,” Falcon shared. “Whether employees want to be with you forever or just for a little bit, if you create alignment behind purpose with your employees, customers and team members, you’re going to achieve authentic engagement.”

And be sure to focus on engagement first before focusing on new products and processes. “People don't fail, processes do,” he stated. “The education people need to succeed is vital, and if they are not succeeding we need to ask if the education we provided is not serving them well.”

Clearly, Falcon believes in investing heavily in learning and development. “Let our customers tell our stories, but if our team members are trained well to deliver great experiences that will feed the customers.” And your learning and development program can’t be static since your customers are changing often. Let’s face it, Falcon stated, “Companies do have money for learning and development, we are just choosing it to spend somewhere else.”

Don’t miss Michel Falcon’s chat with Convenience Matters podcast hosts Jeff Lenard, vice president, Strategic Industry Initiatives, NACS, and Carolyn Schnare, director strategic initiatives, NACS, in Episode No. 212, “Put People First to Grow Profitability.”

Look for more coverage of the NACS Leadership Forum in the NACS Daily this week and in the April issue of NACS Magazine.

Erin Pressley is NACS vice president of Education & Media.