August 26, 2015 Anil Saxena

Controlling The Truth

One of the most prevalent signs of Organizational Learned Helplessness (OLH) is the art of making any news sound good.

Better known as “spinning”.  Spinning takes its queue from George Orwell’s 1984 –

”Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”
Essentially, it is perpetually changing the story to make the company, country, person, etc. sound/look the best.  Companies do this constantly.  Although their intentions may be good, the end result is not. In fact, the results can be tragic for the organization’s internal and external reputation.
1. Investors (and therefore the public for most part) don’t believe when things are going well and over correct when things are bad.
“Saying what’s so makes the bad less bad and the good better” Jim Kramer
2. Consumers/customers stop trusting the organization and look for reasons to flee.
“Toyota lost more customers each time they came out with a statement about the brake issue. Had they just corrected it, the story would have been over in a week. They perpetuated it by trying to control the truth”
3. Employees stop listening to the “corporate communications”, believe rumors, and actively undermine the organization (even unconsciously). This is caused by lower trust and usually results in lower profit.

Not constantly spinning goes against the “new normal”, but has been shown to reap huge benefits – look at Apple, Ford, etc. There are three fundamentals to gain and maintain trust:

1.Tell the whole truth earlier – In In the age of the Internet and WikiLeaks there is no doubt that the truth will come out eventually is imperative that you tell the whole truth. It seems counterintuitive to the art of spinning. But, employees, customers, and investors are likely not going to believe the spin. They will fill in the blanks on their own. They have been taught to do this by the constant masking of what is really so. If the truth is told early then you can get out in front      of the issue and begin to correct it.
2. Instead of controlling a story, try solving the problem – it sounds deceptively simple, but it’s not. The focus should never be damage control, but solution creation. Once a mistake is made, it’s made. The real test is can the issue be resolved to become stronger. Tylenol did this beautifully. An issue with their product became a catapult to huge market share and public safety.
3. Accept blame and move on. Admittedly, this is the hardest one. In our litigious society it is difficult to accept blame because there could be larger ramifications. However, the quicker that blame can be assessed. The better that a solution can be provided. Now accepting blame or fault doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire situation was your or the organization’s fault. Really determining the issue and then working towards a solution will make everything resolved more quickly and more amicably.
The truth will always find a way out, always.  Organizations that get out in front of problems and start to provide solutions can move past a problem and turn it into a win for the organization will be seen as far superior to their competition.  That is why we still talk about Tylenol’s outstanding reaction more than 25 years later.  My wife used to tell me something that still holds true today –

Spinning your clothes doesn’t get the stain out, it embeds the dirt deeper.

The truth can’t be controlled, so you might as well stop trying…ask the leaders at Toyota.
What do you think about controlling the truth?  What is the danger of telling too much truth?

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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