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Do Organizations Need to Be Transparent…or Just Human?

key to successI was discussing the troubles at the Susan G. Komen Foundation recently with a few peers. We wondered if their recent challenges were a direct result of the way they treated their community vs. other operational issues. A quick recap:

  • In January 2013 they pulled funding for Breast Cancer screenings and prevention at Planned Parenthood
  • A few days later they reinstated funding and dismissed two senior leaders, in reaction to an outcry from their community
  • In 2014 they are canceling 7 of their 3-day walks throughout the country

While those are the facts there was plenty left unanswered leading people to read between the lines, perhaps correctly or maybe incorrectly.

While the Komen Foundation and all organizations can run their businesses as they wish, I think there is a lesson here. And it’s a lesson I was taught years ago and am trying to teach to my child. “Treat people as you would like to be treated.” In other words see your community as human beings and talk to them like you would want them to talk to you. Here are some good guidelines to follow:

Respect people: respect people enough to ask for their opinion about major decisions, you will learn so much.

Be honest: answer what you can publicly and admit what you cannot talk about (or do not know).

Apologize: It’s okay to be wrong. Everyone is as times, but own it and apologize for it.

Check in: There is often a fever pitch that happens around a misstep and it’s hard right then to get accurate information because of passions flaring (i.e. the Paula Deen whirlwind right now). Check in when things calm down and see how you did. Asking how you did, and how you can do better is a wonderful way to let your community know they are important to you.

Be available: Have ways for your community to give you feedback, anytime. And respond to that feedback in a timely fashion.

Be flexible: What you thought was the right solution may be different than what your community thinks…and they could be right. Be willing to change direction if needed.

Here are some examples where doing this has worked and worked well.

The famous Tylenol case study
A Boston hospital that was facing tough economic times
Netflix, I mean Qwikster, no I mean Netflix
And most recently this from a quick growing startup that got some bad press. Only time will tell if it will be successful.

Full transparency can be tough for organizations. There are times and circumstances where information needs to be kept closer to the vest. But if you treat your community (customers, employees, vendors, supporters) humanly and as you would like to be treated in a similar situation, you have much better odds of keeping them and keeping your organization moving forward. After all, one of the great things about communities is the deep relationships formed there. Those relationships often endure missteps…if handled with compassion and consideration.

What do you think? Is transparency always necessary or is being human enough?

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