Sure, we all like to talk about the new trend toward transparency in the corporate world, but when a company messes up, the old watch-your-back, cover-your-tush, and shift-the-blame-to-someone-else mindset tends to kick in. The bigger the mistake, the more the spinners spin, desperately looking for a way to turn a negative into a positive, or at least a neutral.
The corporate world in general could learn a lot from what some healthcare systems are doing. Like how Harvard Medical School's major teaching hospitals are considering teaching their staff to immediately disclose and openly apologize for mistakes, and offer compensation for expenses related to the mistake.
But isn't that just inviting trouble?
Not really--in fact, the results tend to be pretty good. For example, Colorado's largest malpractice insurer, COPIC, started a disclosure-and-apology program in 2000. For doctors participating in the program, malpractice claims have dropped 50 percent, and settlement costs have gone down 23 percent over the past five years. Other healthcare systems have noted similar results when they instituted a disclosure policy.
Instead of living in a John Wayne's world of "never apologize and never explain," we now live more in a Dr. Phil, "How's that working for you?" society, and hiding behind a legal and PR firewall hasn't worked too well for companies on the hot seat recently. So why not consider apologizing from the heart and making amends--and getting it right the next time. If doctors—who by tradition, fear, and training are loath to fess up—can do it, anyone can. And everyone can benefit.
(I also posted a version of this over at the Fast Company BlogJam 2005, where there are some pretty interesting conversations going on.)