Honesty Is the Best Policy
Business Culture and Truthfulness When Addressing Mistakes
by Jack Guarnieri, Jersey Jack Pinball & PinballSales.com
It’s hard for many people to admit mistakes and since companies are made up of people, it’s also true that they are sometimes very slow to admit errors (if they admit them at all). The recent headline “Facebook: ‘Malicious actors’” is on point. The social media platform used its tools to discover identities and collect data on a massive global scale, which was then harvested by Cambridge Analytica, striking fear in the hearts and minds of everyone with a Facebook account. They also took their sweet time letting their users know about it.
Some companies have had data breaches, or haven’t been careful enough with customers’ personal information and exposed them to being hacked. Who knows what else has been shared or hacked and seen by people who shouldn’t have access to the information? The only thing we should be certain of is that the information we believe to be secure is not. (I have always operated under the belief that if it’s on the Internet or in the “cloud,” assume it’s available to anyone.)
Anyway, as a company, admitting you did something wrong comes with many strings attached. On one hand, it shows you’re responsive as a company and responsible to your customers. On the other, it can open you up to liability. Of course, it all depends on what type of error you or your company made. The only thing you can count on with certainty is that as humans, we make mistakes every day, some affecting our businesses.
I remember “Antenna-Gate” at Apple in 2010. The iPhone 4 had an antenna that was blocked by the user’s hand, causing many dropped calls. Analysts predicted millions of iPhone 4 recalls and that the company would lose a fortune. The amazing Steve Jobs called everyone together, addressed the media and quickly admitted, “We’re not perfect.” The video should be studied as an example of how to admit a mistake in an elegant and factual way. (This is a printed article, but here is the link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=IorfYuF4gMM.) He turned what was becoming a public relations nightmare into a “feel good” story about Apple.
Looking at the big picture, there’s a difference if you broke a vase at your Mom’s house or if you fudged the diesel emission numbers on a line of automobiles. If an accident caused the mistake, it’s a slam-dunk that you should be honest about it. People who work with you –– and possibly customers or vendors –– may already know the truth, so you will be called upon to be honest and admit the error.
Sometimes we simply make a decision that’s just not working out. You did your best, but that wasn’t enough. We may hope that it works out, but hope is not really a plan. If it’s obvious to you and others that something needs to be corrected, do it quickly! If you are the responsible party in your company, accept that responsibility and at the same time, try not to assign blame. Keep in mind that other employees, as well as customers, may have seen the mistake too, and if it goes on unaddressed, it could cause more damage to morale as well as sales.
If you truly lead by example, you will foster a culture within your company in which people want to tell the truth. While it can be easier to just tell people what they want to hear (and sometimes that’s not the truth), I believe being honest does eventually pay off and will be appreciated by your customers.
We see people in courtroom TV dramas sworn to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” In business, what’s told to employees, vendors and co-workers is probably something different. (Maybe it’s more like a need-to-know basis and if you don’t need to know, you don’t.) It’s not always clear cut and there are times when we give people too much information, not knowing where to draw the line. It takes time and experience to figure all that out.
I like to be honest and give my customers all the information they need to make a decision. When it comes to mistakes, they might be painful to admit, but in the long run, I believe doing so will result in a better relationship with your customer…one built on trust.
Jack Guarnieri started servicing electro-mechanical pinball machines in 1975 and has been involved in every phase of the amusement game business since then. He was an operator in NYC, then began a distributorship in 1999, PinballSales.com, selling coin-op to the consumer market. In January of 2011 he founded Jersey Jack Pinball (named after his RePlay Magazine pen name), which builds award-winning, full-featured, coin-op pinball machines. Email Jack at jack@ jerseyjackpinball.com.