Growth Mindset Business Hacks

How international company KFC bounced back from failure with a growth mindset approach. “A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It’s not ideal.”

Back in early 2018 the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) chain of restaurants changed their delivery supply chain. The disaster that followed was successfully addressed with a growth mindset business strategy.

Promising to set a new delivery standard, DHL the successful company behind the new delivery contract, were tasked with providing chicken to KFC’s 900 UK restaurants,

The Disaster

Four months after winning the KFC contract, disaster struck. Problems with deliveries meant that more than 600 of KFC’s restaurants were left without chicken for several days. Fried chicken fans were not happy. Some customers were reportedly so outraged by the KFC closures they even dialled 999 and reported the matter to the police. People took to social media to vent their frustrations. Not only were KFC fans disappointed and critical but competitors also saw an opportunity to capitalise on KFC’s misfortunes. Several rival companies seized the opportunity to advertise that, unlike KFC, they had fried chicken, it was tasty and ready to go. The situation quickly became known as #chickengate.

A Seriously Growth Mindset Approach

Many expected heads to roll at KFC. But what unfolded next was the exact opposite of a typical blame culture. KFC took a seriously growth mindset approach to the problem and deployed the following growth mindset strategies:

  1. The Apology – KFC squarely took responsibility for the situation, their first action was to begin their response with an apology.
  2. The No-Blame Game – they didn’t waste time looking to lay blame, they quickly established what had gone wrong and set about resolving the problem.
  3. The Development Strategy – KFC treated the problem as an opportunity to develop relationships with their partners, their customers and their restaurant teams.

The Apology

The first action that KFC took was to quickly inform customers about the real reason behind hundreds of their restaurants closing. Not only did they take out an ad in two national newspapers, they also rearranged the three letters in their logo to read FCK on an empty chicken bucket. They explained that they’d brought a new delivery partner on board but there had been teething problems. The company ran a series of Q & A type campaigns on social media, answering questions like, “You had one job KFC…How did you run out of chicken? Fix it now!” starting responses with “We get it, you couldn’t make it up.” Customers appreciated the honest, upbeat style and responded with a wave of positivity on social media. The growth mindset approach of the apology focused on clear communication, transparency and an open response to criticism.

The No-Blame Game

KFC didn’t blame their new delivery company, they acknowledged that delivering to 900 restaurants was a complex task and that transporting such large supplies across the country to so many destinations had caused temporary problems. Some critics publicly encouraged KFC to fire its new distributors. It would have been easy for KFC to adopt a finger pointing approach, be critical of DHL or take a punitive approach, instead they worked with the supplier to resolve the distribution problems as quickly as possible. Their growth mindset approach focused on examining what had gone wrong, establishing why systems had failed and ensuring the same mistakes wouldn’t be repeated once operations were up and running again.

The Development Strategy

KFC chose to prioritise the relationship with their customers, restaurant teams and distribution partners.

KFC were swift to support their new distribution partners by publicly acknowledging that they were working on a new contract, in its first week of operation and emphasising that everyone was working together to get things back on track. A focus on learning from mistakes to improve performance is key to a growth mindset for any business.

KFC made it their mission to regularly give a shout out to their hard working restaurant teams. They made it clear that teams were working flat out to re-open and publicly encouraged their perseverance to get the job done. Instead of only focusing on the problems of #chickengate KFC emphasised the positives of how effectively their teams were working to rectify the situation – a motivating growth mindset strategy that encouraged their teams by acknowledging their efforts.

Frustrated customers were constantly kept in the loop at each stage of events and a dedicated page on KFC’s website provided information on when each restaurant would re-open its doors. The #chickengate failure was used to creatively interact with customers on social media and KFC’s response to what had initially been a PR disaster was widely applauded as a social media and PR success. KFC acted consistently to reassure customers and keep them engaged in the problem solving process. It’s easy to think of companies that go on the defensive when criticised by customers – think United Airlines in 2017, when the then CEO Oscar Munoz, initially blamed but later compensated a doctor who was assaulted and forcibly removed from the plane.

KFC took things to a whole new level with their growth mindset approach of transparency, listening and responding to criticism in such a unique way, enabling them to learn from failure. By refusing to allow themselves to be defined by failure they turned #chickengate around.

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