I know some companies are trained by their legal departments to never say they've sorry….even when they blow up oil rigs, kill people,and mutate generations of sea life. (Heh, those workers who died on the oil rig want their lives back, too, Tony Hayward…and their families would like to have them back, too.)
If your company does something egregious, say you're sorry like you mean it.
Contact the families of the dead and injured and apologize — in person — You, Mr. or Ms. CEO or the Highest Level Person Your Organization has.
Dana Perino, one of President George W. Bush’s press secretary's, tells a great story in her in her new memoir about his visiting injured soldiers in hospitals. Some of these service people would never recover. Others would wish they hadn't. Usually, their families were so happy that the President was there, that they were polite and pleasant.
But, one mother just went off on him, chewing him up one wall and down the other, while her comatose and dying boy lay there.
Later that afternoon, President Bush was solemnly staring out the window of Air Force One when he turned to her and said, “That mama sure was mad me.” A tear rolled down his cheek. But he took it. He took her unfiltered grief and bitter anger. And he should have taken it. As should every president, every military commander, every police chief, and even every building contractor who sends some mother's child into harm's way. He made a tough decision and that mother's son paid the price.
If you’re the CEO of a drug company and your product kills people or an airliner and your plane crashes–even through no real fault of your company, "hear" the grief and anger of the people your company destroyed. To quote President Clinton, "Feel their pain." At least try to imagine it because you are a parent whose child has died, you will never know the devastation they feel. But you can say you're sorry.
No, your apology doesn't go far toward healing their broken hearts, but it does say the organization cares.
Then, try to fix the cause. And, don't just throw money at it. (More on this in a future post.)
One definition of public relations is “good behavior, well communicated.” You need the good behavior first. So find out what went wrong (and do not to take 10 years to figure this out), take steps to fix problems, make appropriate reparations, and make real changes before you start bragging about all the good you're doing. But, start with a heartfelt, "I'm Sorry."