Hilary’s painful lesson on transparency

With the continuing drama of the U.S. election – and the central role transparency is playing in it – I couldn’t help but write this week about the juicy lessons on offer for businesses.

I’ve already written about what Donald Trump’s and Hilary Clinton’s communication styles can teach business leaders about transparency, but what lessons do Hilary’s emails offer to organizations?  

Create a culture of transparency now: After months of failing to shake her email controversy, there is little doubt as to why Hilary recently called for more transparency by the FBI director. The move is unlikely to change voter perception of her trustworthiness less than two weeks before the election though. If anything, it might fuel the perception the distrust among voters who believe her every move is calculated towards political victory. The reason: she failed to adequately respond years earlier to the email controversy. Once a reputation for dishonesty is built, it’s really tough to dig out of it.

Acting now pays off later: Gender politics and other factors might have made it tough for Hilary to shake the email controversy regardless, but building a reputation for transparency early helps to inoculate business leaders and organizations from the full impacts of their mistakes (which inevitably occur for everyone). I’ve seen it happen with companies who aren’t transparent about their sustainability programs scramble to be more transparent after an attack by activists. They struggle to fully regain the trust that was lost with customers and employees alike, no matter the efforts.

When shit happens, be genuine: PR spin doctors know to advise clients to show quick action when they fumble, but even if you’ve acted transparently before you make a mistake, your efforts will be squandered if you fail to show that you have taken strong action that will actually reverse the problem. This can be seen in the impact of Chipotle’s food safety issues. If it takes a while to fix, speak about the challenges along the way.

Transparency is more than risk mitigation. It’s about trust building with your most valuable stakeholders. Understanding this will help you push beyond your transparency boundaries to speak more openly and realize the full potential of transparency efforts.

Photo: Dave Newman/Flickr