The FINANCIAL — Apologising can do a scandal-hit company or under-fire leader more harm than good when it is delivered poorly or deemed inauthentic.
London Business School research shows that companies have to do three things when apologising, according to Dr Gabe Adams. “First, choose a senior spokesperson with the ability to apologise sincerely,” she said.
“Second, acknowledge the wrongdoing and accept responsibility for it. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ and accepting responsibility may lead to smaller losses than the absence of this expression.
“Third, communicate your sympathy for those who have been harmed or who have suffered, and do what you can to make it right.”
Dr Adams’ comments are timely following recent corporate misdemeanours, including the Boots morning-after pill controversy. The British pharmacy chain apologised for its response to calls to cut the cost of its emergency contraceptive.
Boots faced criticism in July after telling the British Pregnancy Advisory Service that the cost of its pill would stay at £28.25 to avoid “incentivising inappropriate use”. It then apologised for its “poor choice of words” over the pricing. Other British shops sell the same branded drug for £13.50.
Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, issued a second apology in April 2017 about a man who was forcibly removed from one of the carrier’s flights. The executive called the incident “truly horrific”.
Munoz’s first attempt at showing remorse was lambasted by critics. In a statement on 10 April, the CEO referred to the incident as an effort to “re-accommodate” passengers. He also described the man who was removed as “disruptive and belligerent”.
Nearly US$1 billion (£767 million) of the company’s value was wiped out the day after Munoz’s first apology. He issued the second apology on 12 April.
“Delivering a poor apology can damage the company’s reputation and prompt investors to question their association with the business,” Dr Adams said. “If company representatives get the apology wrong, it is an error subject to scrutiny by investors.”
One man unlikely to apologise anytime soon is US President Donald Trump, who was lambasted for his politically charged comments at the National Scout Jamboree in July. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated that neither she nor Trump believed there was any reason to say sorry.
Trump provoked a backlash for attacking his predecessor Barack Obama, election rival Hillary Clinton, dissident Republicans and the news media.
Michael Surbaugh, chief executive of the Boys Scouts of America, did apologise following the speech.
He said: “I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting programme.”