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3 steps to creating value from criticism

Ivan Lim

April 20, 2021

Image by DepositPhotos

When organisations are faced with criticism, the common response is to deny, push back or play the victim, releasing statements and making no progress whatsoever. However, criticism can be a useful source of information about our customers and should we be willing to put in the effort to work with our critics, we can improve the status quo, doing more good for the general public and for our business. In this article, we look at two examples of companies - SIA and McDonald’s - that did just that.

Binomial advocates a 1-2-3 step process, where we listen to our critics, find common ground with them, and work together to co-create solutions that are mutually beneficial. Just like how sparring partners can help each other learn and grow, critics and organisations can communicate and push each other to perform beyond what is “acceptable” to become “exceptional”.

Image by Martin Widenka on Unsplash
Step 1: Listen to the problem and learn

It may be challenging, but assume the best intentions of your critics. Where there’s smoke, there likely is fire - people hardly create problems from nothing, and there could possibly be an underlying issue that slipped by the organisational radar which could be addressed to better the organisation and its offerings. When critics raise issues, they see a problem that they believe should be solved, and solving these problems could be in the interest of your organisation. 

When the Singapore Airlines (SIA) launched its flights to nowhere following the trend of other airlines such as EVA Air and Qantas, they were faced with harsh criticism by environmental campaigners for introducing carbon-intensive travel. SIA took the feedback in their stride, launching a review of their plans and ultimately cancelling the proposed flights, introducing a more environmentally-friendly alternative which allowed for in-flight dining in a parked A380 superjumbo jet, or SIA@Home, which allowed customers to order from 10 menus including the First Class and Business Class meals, and dine from the comfort of their homes. 

Rather than stubbornly defending their position with the precedents of other airlines, SIA took the effort to listen to the issues that environmental campaigners were raising, and took immediate action to review and ideate new, environmentally-friendlier solutions that served their purposes of generating revenue, as well as engaging their customers and critics. This resulted in a solution that was better for the general public and environment, and would also serve to strengthen the brand image of SIA. 


Image by Ready Made on Pexels
Step 2: Find common ground

Critics and organisations don’t always have to be on opposing sides - sometimes there may be an alignment in ideal outcomes for both groups. McDonald’s, as one of the largest F&B operators in the world, has been a huge driver for the meat industry. In the 1990s, they faced harsh criticism from animal rights activists who deemed that the F&B giant was supporting the inhumane treatment of animals in the meat industry, which at that time had low standards for its processes. The common ground in this case was that both sides wanted the same result of improved farming practices, since it would inevitably increase the quality of produce through the betterment of living conditions for the animals. Alongside Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal rights activist and expert in the field of animal science, McDonald’s worked to establish standards and guidelines for their suppliers - standards which were eventually scaled to the entire industry. 

It’s important to find the common ground on which both organisations and critics stand, to find out how to align interests. This then sets us in the right frame of mind to actively seek solutions that benefit all parties.


Step 3: Work together to solve issues

Once common ground has been established, it paves the way to co-create with our critics and customers to solve the issues that have been identified. Stakeholders will only participate in co-creation if it produces value for them. By aligning interests in a common end-goal, there is a lower (but not eliminated) risk that differences in agendas will pull the ideas in different directions that may not be mutually beneficial. 

In the example of McDonald’s and the animal rights activists, both sides were able to co-ideate a solution that would serve their common interests. By combining Dr. Grandin’s technical expertise with McDonald’s influence, they were able to effect actionable changes in not only McDonald’s suppliers, but to the whole meat industry, creating a marked improvement in standards and guidelines. Independently, neither may have been able to make such positive systemic change, but collectively they tapped on each other’s strengths to co-create a solution. 

Organisations have to be transparent with their processes in order to allow co-creation to effectively occur. Transparency creates trust, which enables creative dialogue for ideation. It, however, remains important to set benchmarks by which ideas created are assessed, to ensure that the idea-generation stays on track and avoids deviating into driving ideas that benefit the self-interest of the stakeholders. 


Conclusion

If utilised appropriately, atypical customers like critics can be a useful source of information on how to do better. While the means of communicating their ideas may not be palatable to organisations (like protests and boycott movements), organisations should still look for the facts of the matter, and pick up points of improvement. The viewpoints may be different, but the outcome can still seek to benefit both sides, and once a common objective has been identified, co-creation can be a powerful tool to create solutions that are better for the world, for customers and for business. 


Binomial is a strategy and brand consulting firm. We help companies be disruption-ready by combining entrepreneurial agility with execution excellence to stay ahead of the curve. If you are keen to learn from your critics, get in touch with us to find out more.


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