We’ve been hard on some of the companies we’ve highlighted over Catfish Month, but the truth is that we’ve got a soft spot — we believe in redemption! Hope! The ability for a corporation to rise above its own suckiness!
IT’S NOT EVEN THAT HARD. It requires coming from a place of humility and authenticity, from genuinely understanding your mistake and feeling empathy for the harm done to your customers. It’s a challenge to instill this at an organizational level, especially when you’re in the midst of a total public shitstorm, but if you break it down, the components are simple and timeless:
In the wake of a data abuse scandal, Facebook issued an apology ad that convinced exactly zero people of its remorse.
Here’s the glaring problem, 38 seconds in:
“But then something happened. We had to deal with spam, clickbait, fake news, and data misuse.”
“Something happened” makes it seem like these problems came out of nowhere when they were a direct result of Facebook’s engagement algorithms and profit model. Facebook also took numerous measures to conceal the full extent of the scandal from its users for months, if not years.
A statement like this would have been more palatable and more truthful:
“Our focus on our business narrowed to tunnel vision. We ended up deeply harming our users and losing sight of our original mission. For that, we’re deeply sorry.”
Acknowledging that “something happened” is one thing; accepting responsibility for it is another.
Take it to an individual level to appreciate the subtle difference — if your significant other committed infidelity, which approach would you be more inclined to forgive? “I screwed up; what I did was wrong” versus “I screwed up because you weren’t giving me enough affection.” Both acknowledge the mistake, but only the first approach accepts full responsibility.
Tylenol, for example, inadvertently caused some deaths in Chicago back in the ’80s. It was the days before tamper-proof packaging, and someone had laced product with cyanide. Tylenol could have easily deflected the tragedies as the work of a madman, but they shouldered the responsibility of “keeping [the public’s] trust.” That included pulling all product and introducing tamper-proof packaging. Taking accountability allowed Tylenol to maintain consumer confidence, and it recovered market share within six months.
We will say one thing for Uber, despite its, er, colorful history (which we’ve detailed in-depth in our previous blog post). It took a big step in the right direction by giving the boot to controversial CEO Travis Kalanick and replacing him with Dara Khosrowshahi, who figures prominently in an Uber apology ad.
What stood out to us:
- Placing the CEO front-and-center — It shows the public that leadership is invested in a tangible way.
- His clear-cut claim of ownership over Uber’s mistakes — “We commit to being open, taking responsibility for the problem, and fixing it.”
- Charting a specific path for the future — “New leadership, new culture, better pickups and improvements to ride quality for riders and drivers.”
Uber knows that it screwed up big-time, but it made a visible commitment to meaningful change by ousting its founder, acknowledging the flaws in its culture and business model, and outlining the details of how they plan to improve and grow.
We truly believe you’ll get 10X rewards for doing the right thing and acting with integrity and maturity. Next time your business sucks, ask yourself this: Am I acknowledging my mistake, accepting responsibility, and taking action?