The one thing you can do to build trust in your organisation is to say sorry. Yes, that’s right make a genuine apology, state what you are going to to about it and act in a timely fashion. This builds trust as it demonstrates organisations are human, vulnerable and open to admitting that things aren’t perfect. Showing staff that you value them by listening and aiming to do things right. It shows you chose to improve organisational culture over protecting yourself or the organisation.
From gender pay gaps to the Rhodes Must Fall Campaign, why can’t organisations start with saying sorry to move forward? It can be a complex thing, with a number of factors at play. Ranging from fear of losing face, not wanting to admit to being wrong or not being able to face saying sorry. As we know, not issuing an apology is much worse. Pretending something hasn’t happened when it has and everyone knows it. I think this is a sure fire way to lose respect, trust and goodwill. It builds a wall of defensiveness and distrust between the majority of staff, the organisation and senior leadership team.
Ignoring the issue, will not make it go away, as we have seen with the collapse of Carillion. Denial is part of what I call “pass the blame parcel” culture. Shielding the truth with massaged statistics doesn’t help either. We have all read rebuttal reports in the press time and time again covering topics from CEO pay rises, staff bonuses and university admission figures. Lay out the facts by all means, but please don’t deny the way people feel and wrong-doing with data javelins. Data can be used as a way of gripping onto power, frequently used to evidence that there is “nothing to see here“. I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t build trust, it makes staff and the public sense that there are more untruths to come.
Even if you feel staff are unlikely to forgive, go ahead and try. The reputational risk of not saying sorry is far greater.The average cost of recruiting someone, based on the average UK salary of £27,600 is is approx. £5,433. If you have to recruit regularly as a result of a high staff turnover it is hitting an organisation’s bottom line of profit and productivity. It simply doesn’t make business sense. Saying sorry, builds trust, retains talent and leads to a far more productive workforce. For more in-depth information on the hows, whens and wheres of organisational apology read this HBR article.
Organisations are also often very fearful of opening up Pandora’s box of “oh yes and another thing”. When in fact apologising opens up lines of communication, and doesn’t have to result in an endless blame game or spiral of guilt. In psychological terms saying sorry recognises that staff that have been hurt. It goes a long way to help restore their faith in senior leaders and workplaces. It kick starts the empathy process for staff who feel let down, upset or frustrated.
However, not any old sorry will do! Once you have decided to take this vital step, it must be sincere and authentic. Timing is also key, how will you/the organisation deliver the message- at a team or organisational level? Looking for excuses while apologising is not effective, but stating it can’t be undone and what you will do about is a mature way forward. Other techniques to support saying sorry are mediation and restorative justice, both powerful options to get to where you need to be. It may seem daunting, but put yourself on the receiving end and your ego to one side. Finally, learn from the experience to develop a more positive working environment for all.