Crippled CEO Blog #124:
In 2016, the government was alerted to fraud on a grand scale at Wells Fargo. In an effort to meet impossible quotas from management, Wells Fargo employees opened approximately 2 million bank accounts in customers’ names without their consent.
When they were caught red-handed and the full scope of the fraud was coming to light, Wells Fargo released a statement downplaying the problem, deflecting responsibility, and failing to apologize.
As the egregiousness of the catastrophe became more public, Wells Fargo took action: they blamed and fired 5,300 low-level employees — employees who were also victims of the corrupt senior management.
Wells Fargo had to pay a $185 million fine and, more importantly, their reputation was permanently scarred.
When something is wrong, especially in our business, our instinct is to downplay it. Somehow, we think if we can convince people that it’s not as bad as it looks, that will somehow make things better.
But downplaying a problem doesn’t fix the problem. And people are smart; they know when you are swindling them.
How much better off would Wells Fargo have been if they had immediately accepted full responsibility, apologized, and taken meaningful, aggressive action?
We have had problems at Life Saver. We have made mistakes. Supply chain issues, defective products, dumb mistakes, bad decisions — at some point, we have done all of them.
I can’t tell you how many posts, emails, phone calls, etc. have included phrases like: “We fucked up,” “This situation is absolutely terrible,” “There’s no excuse for this,” “This is 100% my fault,” and “I can’t even begin to express how sorry I am.”
Personally and professionally, people understand that mistakes, big and small, will happen. Trying to downplay them isn’t just dishonest, it’s ineffective. If you own it, apologize, and show people what you’re doing to make it right, folks will respect and appreciate that far more. You’ll look way better admitting your mistakes than pretending you’re perfect. Trust me.
(I’ve made some pretty huge mistakes. Your mom isn’t one of them. Your mom also gets a text from me every Sunday with a link to the latest blog post. Send a text to 561-726-1567 with the word CRIP as the message to get a link to the blog as soon as it’s up.)