APOLOGY & The Keys to Effective Organizational Apology

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Often after organizations misstep, they further exacerbate the problem by not directly and contritely offering an apology. See this article from Harvard Business Review for ways to better communicate to a skeptical world.” Read the HBR article at … https://hbr.org/2015/09/the-organizational-apology

Also read When Should a Leader Apologize—and When Not? by Barbara Kellerman, HBR, April 2006 who suggests:

… to the question of why a leader would endure the discomfort and assume the risk of offering a public apology. That is, apologies can serve four purposes:

  1. Individual purpose: The leader made a mistake or committed a wrongdoing. The leader publicly apologizes to encourage followers to forgive and forget.
  2. Institutional purpose. One or more persons in the group for which the leader is responsible made a mistake or committed a wrongdoing. The leader publicly apologizes to restore the group’s internal cohesion and external reputation.
  3. Intergroup purpose.One or more persons in the group for which the leader is responsible made a mistake or committed a wrongdoing that inflicted harm on one or more persons on the outside. The leader publicly apologizes to repair relations with injured parties.
  4. Moral purpose.The leader experiences genuine remorse for a mistake made or a wrongdoing committed, either individually or institutionally. The leader publicly apologizes to ask forgiveness and seek redemption.

The first three purposes are primarily strategic and rooted in self-interest. The last purpose is primarily authentic: An apology is extended because it is the right thing to do. As a general principle, leaders should apologize only if doing so serves one of these purposes.

…In short, given the nature of the crisis, Burke extended the virtually perfect public apology. He promptly acknowledged the problem. He accepted responsibility. He expressed concern. And he put his money where his mouth was: Not only did he offer to exchange all Tylenol capsules already purchased for Tylenol tablets; he promised new, secure packaging to make certain that the problem would never be repeated…

The Perfect Apology

  • Acknowledges the mistake or wrongdoing
  • Accepts responsibility
  • Expresses regret
  • Provides assurance that the offense won’t be repeated
  • Is well timed