by V. S. Ravi Elangkoh


Man_thinking_abt_foodSupper at one of the outlets of a well-known fast food chain turned awry somewhere in Malaysia, when punches became the order of the night instead of the chicken the clients sought to order.


It all began when weary clients who had queued up for close to an hour towards the end of a long day were suddenly told that the chicken had run out. Feathers were ruffled. Aggravated by hunger pangs and the unfulfilled expectations of their basic human need, frustrated clients began crying foul over the lack of fowl.


Morale dipped further. Tension shot sky high. Eventually something snapped and the claws came out.


A few restaurant workers stormed out from behind the service counter and from the kitchen to assault a client who expressed his intention to make a formal complaint to the restaurant’s management while taking some photos of the staff involved. There was a scuffle. Part of the incident was captured by an eye-witness and uploaded onto YouTube.


The whole drama was the outcome of failure somewhere somehow along the various levels of leadership. All of us could learn a few valuable lessons from the unsavoury event.


Lesson #1: Count Your Chickens Before They Are Fetched
Management 101 tells us something about inventory management. It is fundamental for businesses to establish a system that can forecast and manage their demand and supply chain. If you discover a persistent weakness in your organization’s supply management, then it is usually a matter of “fired” or “fried”, i.e. the supplier or staff directly responsible for the gross oversight should get fired, otherwise your reputation will be fried.


Lesson #2: Manage Customer Expectations
Even if a sudden burst of demand were to outstrip supply, any restaurant manager should have the presence of mind to manage customer expectations by courteously informing the latter of the food shortage – or at least the high possibility of the deficit – as soon as possible, and not only when it is the customer’s turn to order. Doing so would give customers the opportunity to look for viable alternatives, instead of “forcing” them to order something else on the menu, or turning them away at the eleventh hour.


Customers are not so unreasonable as to blame you for unforeseeable market forces impacting supply, but they will chide you for not advising them of potential problems in advance. You can absolve yourself from all responsibility, protesting as much as you like that it is really not your fault, but your customers will definitely consider going to your competitors the next time round.


Lesson #3: Manage Your Anger
We live in a stressful world, more often on the edge of fury rather than on the edge of glory. Where no mental disorder is diagnosed, anger is usually a symptom of high stress. All of us, especially if we are involved in the service or hospitality industry, must learn how to manage our anger. Otherwise, we should not be in the industry at all.


Why is it so hard to control one’s anger? Once our amygdala – the part of our brain that is involved in processing emotions such as fear and aggression (anger) – has been “hijacked” by the over-flooding of our emotions, there is no turning back. Like a rollercoaster that must complete its programmed course, the emotions that hijack our amygdala will rush forward irreversibly. Although things may calm down after the emotional storm is over, the damage – sometimes very costly – has already been done.


Therefore, the tip is to prevent setting off the amygdala on the wrong course in the first place. Wise leaders can see the negative trigger coming and avoid it. They know how to manage any spark of negative emotion before it explodes into an uncontrollable devouring fire.


Leaders should ensure that all their people know how to manage their anger and exercise great caution with the words they speak. As psychologists would attest, words do have a powerful impact on one’s psyche.


Lesson #4: It’s not Racial, It’s just Mercurial
Some parties have tried to politicize the unfortunate fowl incident by injecting racial connotations. Since the customer in the case was of a different ethnicity from that of the restaurant workers, there were allegations that the former must have uttered a racial slur to provoke the violence, an allegation the customer has denied.


Good leaders must know the exact root of a problem in order to be able to take the right action. If it is just a matter of volatile temperaments gone out of control, then it must not be exaggerated as something else especially something as sensitive as ethnic or racial bias.


Lesson #5: Train, train, train! Coach, coach, coach!
The fifth lesson is a corollary of the other four lessons. They boil down to the need for training and coaching.


Where leadership development is concerned, training and coaching are not optional. Instead training and coaching are indispensable ingredients in the recipe for corporate success. There is no way you can dish out authentic corporate success without those basic ingredients.


Food for Thought
The organization that owns the restaurant chain in the aforementioned case was also embroiled in another controversy in October 2010. Could this be indicative of the organization’s emphasis on training and coaching?


Some organizations “chicken” out on training and coaching because the leaders are afraid to open the floodgates for an honest look at organizational shortcomings which would reflect back on the leaders themselves.


Is your organization an exemplar of good service, best practices and a healthy culture? If the standard falls short, should you be considering further training and coaching?


[Note: The fowl story had a tasty ending after all. News published in the local papers on 19 February indicated that the customer was happy with the apology and compensation offered by the restaurant management.]