It seems like everyone is coming out with their lists for “best and worst of” for 2008. There sure are plenty “worst of” cases. Reputations have taken major hits this year. I was contemplating who took the biggest beating and why. I would have to say that the financial sector wins the award for worst reputation damage of the year. There is no end to the thoughtlessness that has caused irreparable harm and anguish to people the world over. The economic meltdown caused by subprime losses, greed, fraud, lack of oversight and sheer idiocy makes one speechless. Although I cannot predict when our financial institutions will recover, I can say that it will take years to rebuild the massive amounts of trust that they have squandered. The Bernie Madoff scandal ends the year on a very dour note. My family knows people who have had their life savings wiped out overnight. One woman we know was getting 18% on her accounts every year. Many people are now putting their homes on the market and praying for the best although the worst has arrived at their doorstep.
I have been quoted a fair amount the past few months on CEO apologies. In fact, tomorrow I was intereviewed on NPR on CEO apologies in 2008. The absence of these regrets has caused the media to question why and what it takes to simply say I am sorry. Most people believe that CEOs are to blame when companies go awry or entire sectors detonate. As I have said before, apologizing can be seen as a sign of strength, not weaknesses. If CEOs carefully adhere to the values they ask everyone to follow, they can easily see that apologies are often the “right thing” to do. Here are some guidelines for all those reputation-busters thinking that an apology might be in order:
1. Move quickly
2. Accept accountability
3. Refer to what was wronged so it is clear you know what was done
4. Apologize for outcome/express regret
5. Share the pain
6. Be transparent
7. Be sincere
8. State plan for making sure the event never happens again and what that is
9. Spare the finger pointing
10. Issue regular progress reports
Eating humble pie never hurt anyone.