Taking Responsibility

When things go bad, do you own up or cover up?

Sometimes bad things happen in our organisations. Despite us doing our best, things can just simply hit the fan. When this happens, we find ourselves needing to decide if and how we tell our customers and the public.

This is also where everyone else gets to see the moral compass of our companies and leadership just by sitting back and watching our words and actions.

Everyone will quickly see if we’re taking responsibility or not.

I offer you this example

I received an email the other day with some news about a company called ownCloud, they develop software which allows businesses to have their own Dropbox style storage for their data. This gave me a chance to see how a particular company handles data breaches. ownCloud is open source software too, so community engagement is a core part of their business model.

The email explained how their community forum had a data breach, what they have done in response to the breach. They explained that while some data was obtained, that data was probably useless to the hacker but recommended all affected users changed their passwords anyway. Then they explained how the breach occurred and how they’ve plugged up that security issue. If you’re into IT security, here is their publication about the breach.

Real tests provide no warning

Whether due to IT security issues like data breaches, process errors, honest mistakes, lapses in concentration or anything else, people in companies make mistakes and so can those companies overall.

There are many instances where individuals and companies choose to explain and justify themselves, perhaps how their actions are just fine, or they try to hide what they did despite a swathe of evidence. Sometimes these efforts to cover up are successful for a while, sometimes not at all, they just make things look worse, and even more dodgy.

Other times we see these same individuals and companies simply stand up, look the public in the eye and take full responsibility for their actions or lack of. Depending on circumstances, this approach has the potential to be the end of the issue. In many cases this is due to the fact that the act of personal and corporate responsibility can go a long way to restore trust from the eyes of customers and the public.

Leading through action

As leaders, our job is to lead our organisations, to do the best we can in our work and to influence and support all those around us to do their best too. We spend our efforts recruiting employees based on what is hopefully a good cultural and skills match between them and what we need in our organisations. We do our best to improve their engagement so that they enjoy their job and can add value into what we’re ultimately delivering to our customers.

If things go wrong, we want them to understand that it’s important to let us know so we can resolve the issue with them, and sometimes that issue is a serious enough one that we need to go directly to our customer/s or the public to explain ourselves.

Are you being accountable?

We’ve all got values, and we need to remember these when things are going bad. Being true to our values when things are going bad is more critical than when things are going well.

Consider what you will do next time something goes wrong in your team and this has impacted your customer or the public.

What kind of message do you want your actions to send all the people who are watching you handle your own or your team’s mistake?