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The East African : Sep 26th 2015
38 The EastAfrican BUSINESS SEPTEMBER 26 - OCTOBER 2, 2015 MANAG E R When a company makes a mistake, who should apologise when, and how? COMMENTARY HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW “Companies need clear guidelines for determining whether a misstep merits an apology and, when it does, how to deliver the message.” A t some point, every company makes a mistake that requires an apology. And more often than not, organisations and their leaders fail to apologise effectively, if at all, which can severely damage their relationships with stakeholders and their reputations, especially if the incidents become public (and publicised). Companies need clear guide- lines for determining whether a misstep merits an apology and, when it does, how to deliver the message. In this article, we present an apology formula, drawn from our work and research in management and psychology. The bottom line for serious transgressions: Senior leaders must immediately express candour, remorse and a commitment to change in a high-profile setting — and make it sincere. Should you apologise? 1. Was there a violation, whether real or perceived? When a company apologises, it accepts full or partial blame for causing harm. So it needs to first determine whether a violation has in fact occurred and, if so, whether the company is responsible. This needs to be done quickly, and perceptions of responsibility matter. Leaders should consider oth- ers’ perceptions of the potential violation and move swiftly to address them. An apology enables an executive to express concern and convey the organisation’s values — even as an investigation into exactly what happened and who was responsible unfolds. 2. Was the violation core or noncore? Certain activities and respon- sibilities are central to a company’s products, services and mission. Other responsibilities are peripheral or less consequential. Core violations pose a funda- mental threat to the mission of the organisation and require a robust apology. 3. How will the public react? Thanks to Twitter, Insta- gram, Yelp, Facebook and other social media outlets, a single customer complaint can easily go viral and influence the perceptions of millions of potential customers. In gauging the probable reac- tion to an incident, companies should take into account the relative size and status of the parties. A violation committed by a large, powerful or high-status organisation against a low-status, low-power person or group is more likely to engender public outrage — and require an apology — than a violation committed by a mom-and-pop business or one that hurts only wealthy individuals or corporations. 4. Is the company willing to commit to change? Leaders must also focus on the extent to which they are willing — and able — to change the company’s behaviour. If they can’t or don’t want to do things Companies need clear guidelines for determining whether a misstep merits an apology and, when it does, how to deliver the message. differently in the future, the case for making an apology is weak. The apology formula Once a company has decided that it should apologise, it has to do it right. Considering the following variables can help an organisation avoid missteps: Who: The more serious and the more core the violation, the more necessary it becomes that a senior leader make the apology. In cases where there is a clear transgressor, there may be merit in involving that person. But if he isn’t sufficiently senior, you risk offending the wronged party or the public by conveying that you are not taking the violation seriously. Deciding who should receive the apology is often straightforward — although companies can slip up here too. Effective apologies are delivered directly to the person or people harmed. When that group is large and diffuse, the organisation may want to offer an “open” apology through the press or social media. What: The best apologies show candor. They make it absolutely clear that the organisation acknowledges both the harm that was caused and its own responsibility. Effective apologies also ex- press remorse. In 2006, when users were upset by Facebook’s just-launched News Feed feature, CEO Mark Zuckerberg offered a pitch-perfect apology. “We really messed this one up,” his written statement began. He went on to use phrases like “bad job,” “errors,” “we missed this point,” “big mistake” and “I’m sorry.” His choice of words was remorseful and self-abasing — and effective. The third key ingredient is demonstrating a commitment to change. An apology should create distance from the “old self” that committed the violation and establish a “new self” that will not engage in similar behaviour. Where: If a company wants to control the coverage of an apology, the setting can determine how widely heard the message will be. A live statement, with or without an audience, increases the perceived importance of the apology. When: A good apology ar- rives quickly. Speed signals sincerity and dispels the idea that executives feel uncertainty or ambiguity about their responsibility. How: The way an apology is delivered can matter just as much as the content of the apology. Written statements have the benefit of being broadcast quickly, but it is often easier to strike the right tone through speech. A leader can rely on nonverbal cues to convey emotion, humility and empathy. A well-executed apology can improve relationships with customers, employees and the public, leaving the company better positioned than it was before the error. That’s an outcome to which every leader should aspire. Mau≥ice E. Schweitze≥ is the Cecilia Yen Koo p≥ofesso≥ at the Unive≥sity of Pennsylvania’s Wha≥ton School. Alison Wood B≥ooks is an assistant p≥ofesso≥ of business administ≥ation at Ha≥va≥d Business School. Adam D. Galinsky is the Vik≥am S. Pandit p≥ofesso≥ of business at the Columbia Business School Gazing at natu≥e between wo≥k makes you mo≥e p≥oductive By NICOLE TORREST Harvard Business Review UNIVERSITY OF Melbourne researchers led by Kate Lee gave 150 subjects a menial task that involved hitting specific keystrokes when certain numbers flashed on a computer screen. After five minutes the subjects were given a 40-second break, and an image of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings appeared on their screens. Half the subjects saw a plain concrete roof; the others saw a roof covered with a green, flowering meadow. Both groups then resumed the task. After the break, concentration levels fell by 8 per cent among the people who saw the concrete roof, whose performance grew less consistent. But among those who saw the green roof, concentration levels rose by 6 per cent and performance held steady. Can looking at nature — even just a scenic screen saver — improve your focus? How much can 40 seconds of staring at grass actually help? Ms Lee: We implicitly sense that nature is good for us, and there has been a lot of research into its extensive social, health and mental benefits and the mechanisms through which they occur. Our findings suggest that engaging in these green microbreaks — taking time to look at nature through the window, on a walk outside or even on a screen saver — can be really helpful for improving attention and performance in the workplace. What is it about seeing a green roof that improves our attention? Are we wired to like nature? In this research, I’ve been draw- ing on attention restoration theory, which suggests that natural environments have benefits for people. The theory is that because nature is effortlessly fascinating, it captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it. It doesn’t draw on your attention control, which you use for all these daily tasks that require you to focus. So gazing at natural environments provides you with an opportunity to replenish your stores of attention control. That’s really important, because they’re a limited resource that we’re constantly tapping. A lot of environmental psychol- ogy research has looked only at how people respond to landscapes like forests and woodlands and parks for much longer time periods. We’ve been wondering if, well, with most of our population now living and working in cities, we should be thinking about smaller green spaces and shorter breaks. These subjects were just doing simple keystrokes. How would this apply to more complex tasks? The task was measuring sus- tained attention — your ability to maintain focus and not drift off or think about other things. That sounds simple, but it really requires you to lock onto the task. And sustained attention is a fundamental cognitive function that underlies all other networks of attention, like executive attention. It’s important for activities like reading, marketing, strategising and planning. So our work points to what we might see with more complex tasks, but we’d need to do more research.
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