Management lessons from Chick-fil-a’s handling of controversy

Aug 08, 2012

This is not the forum to analyze the cause of the recent controversy surrounding Chick-fil-a, but as with any well-publicized adversity, astute business leaders will observe the corporate handling of the situation.

When faced with a very public and emotionally charged situation, what did the Chick-fil-a franchisees do?  They focused on execution and fundamentals.  

When groups from both sides of the controversy choose to bring their support and protest to the local franchise restaurant, the Chick-fil-a supply chain was taxed to balance a “record-setting day”.  Chick-fil-a sells a fungible product and amid all of the stories what did not happen was a supply chain failure to meet demand.   Do your supply chain employees and partners have the ability to respond with agility?

Some readers may have watched the viral YouTube clip by the CFO of Vante at a drive thru in Tucson.  The Chick-fil-a employee, who when faced with an angry customer, responded in the video with patience and poise.  Her customer service training kicked in allowing for her measured response.  Does your customer service training program equip your front line employees to respond to dissatisfied customers in a professional manner?

When faced with the threat of a nationwide protest, Chick-fil-a’s public response was in part “yet another opportunity for us to serve with genuine hospitality, superior service and great food”.  Does your mission and organizational philosophy communicate to your employees and customers your intent to consistently provide excellent product and service at all times?

The annals of risk management are full of examples of corporations dealing with serious problems.  Those that have succeeded in adversity demonstrated core values that put their customer needs and concerns in front of short term profits and who’s reaction was grounded in honesty and full disclosure.

As business leaders we have an opportunity to observe and reflect on these lessons.  Our charge is to ensure that our own organizations have the training, planning and leadership to respond to adversity.

About the Author

Jeff is a Chief Financial Officer with B2B CFO offering advisory services to small and mid-sized businesses. His clients are in professional services, manufacturing, IT support, equipment rental, lighting distribution and maintenance, concrete and aggregate, and automotive repair. With over 35 years of financial experience in varied industries, including construction related manufacturing and distribution, sporting goods, consumer products, and service companies, he has served firms ranging in revenue from $25M to $1B as a CFO, Treasurer and Controller. Twice Jeff has helped guide companies through bankruptcy. Jeff has taken a company public and has twice managed the external financial reporting requirements of a publicly-traded corporation.

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