We live in a world of carefully cultivated image – where spin is everything and companies go to great length to carefully shape and craft their identity- for customers and employees. So much work goes into shaping messages and meticulously selecting what the public can see – and what has to stay under wraps.
What are organizations afraid of revealing?
That they don’t know the answer to some questions? That their product isn’t as good as they claim it to be? Something worse?
If these hidden truths came to the surface (as they so often do), the damage to a company’s reputation is potentially devastating. For the sake of example, what’s worse?
• Johnson & Johnson acknowledging that there were potentially fatal issues with their product Tylenol. Taking it upon themselves to remove it from the market until there were assurance that it was safe. Creating a whole new level of safety for the entire industry. Johnson & Johnson handled this tragedy with transparency. Not only ensuring the problem was rectified quickly but that the public viewed them as trustworthy. Their market share (number 1 at the time) actually grew when Tylenol came back on the shelves.
• Suppressing negative real negative issues with a handful of models of it’s cars braking systems, Toyota has still not recovered its position as the number one car manufacture in the world. Worse than that, there are ongoing lawsuits and lingering investigations still pending against Toyota. There are some that believe the company worked to systematically cover up the issue. Unfortunately, once a company has been found to actively hide issues or blame customers for faulty products their reputations are hard to repair.
While both of these routes lead to a solution, one is transparent and one is not. One works with the affected customers, and one all but ignores them. Even though the customers eventually receive a solution either way, one of them actually fosters a sense of trust for the company.
Transparency is, without a doubt, always the best route. It won’t always be easy, and it certainly can be embarrassing and painful from time to time, but the gains are countless. People make mistakes, and customers understand that. They don’t get mad when companies mess up, they get mad when they won’t admit – or worse – don’t do anything about it.
The same goes for internal transparency: mistakes happen, humans make errors, things get mixed up – but veiling the truth from employees will only make them feel on the fringes, and less a “part of the team.”
Ultimately, employees will begin to mistrust leadership and anything that comes from corporate communications. Leaving the most important asset any company has collectively rolling their eyes at anything from “corporate”
It’s all about trust here. If a customer (or an employee) can trust a company to do the right thing, to mean what they say, and to follow through with claims and promises, they can forgive mistakes and errors – because they know the company will own up to those too!
If companies and managerial leaders spent as much time problem solving as they did problem hiding, and let the rest of the world in on the issue at hand, there would be so much more room for innovation, creativity, collaboration, and the building of relationships that actually make a difference in people’s lives.
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.