Tag Archives: economy

From Blunder to Wonder: How Companies Successfully Bounce Back from Mistakes

Emily Safrin

Emily Safrin1993 was a terrible year for a particular major national fast food chain. It was an even worse year for four families who suffered unimaginable losses after their children ate contaminated meat at the establishment. Unsurprisingly, the chain found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. However, in a matter of years, it had not only recovered, but doubled its number of locations—a feat that is now considered one of the most impressive comebacks in contemporary business history.

If this is the first time you’ve heard this story, you may be shocked that a company responsible for something so horrific was able to salvage its sales at all, let alone become the fifth-largest burger chain in the US just years thereafter—but that’s exactly what happened.

The reality is that no enterprise can escape at least some degree of error. And while there is certainly a vital difference between an erroneous invoice and unintentionally causing the unthinkable, certain damage-control strategies have proven successful time and again, no matter the blunder.Remember the importance of accepting blame and saying you’re sorry. Click To Tweet

Own The Gaffe—And Fast

Especially in today’s well-connected world, official statements get around fast. So does radio silence.

As soon as possible after disaster strikes, offer a firm and heartfelt apology. However, refrain from being overly apologetic or defensive. Instead, focus on action. The old adage “Actions speak louder than words” has stood the test of time for a reason.

Nevertheless, judicious and impactful action takes time to implement. So, while you get to planning, make sure from the get-go that your words reflect a sense of accountability and the intention to fix the problem.

Watch Your Words

Word choice is paramount when delivering a public statement.

If your company serves an international market or consumers who speak a language other than English (as is the case of most businesses in the social media age, whether by design or not), take extra care that your mea culpa reaches your audience unscathed. The last thing you want is to create another mess when you’re already in damage-control mode.

For example, an international bank fell victim to a simple yet costly translation slip-up in 2009 when its catchphrase, “Assume Nothing,” was infamously mistranslated as “Do Nothing.” The mishap cost the company 10 million dollars for a new ad campaign alone.

Be aware of variants in widespread languages like Spanish and English that can make or break how your message is construed. Avoid embarrassment by hiring a professional translator who’s well versed not only in English, but the language and culture you aim to reach. Imagine, for example, how confused American consumers would be if a fast food restaurant referred to its french fries as “chips” (the British variant).

Furthermore, if there were ever a time to avoid using machine translation services, this would be it. There’s no room for error when it comes to cleaning up after a misstep, so make sure human translators—who are able to adequately interpret nuance and impact—craft the message in the new language before it reaches the public.

Make It Right

Words are vital when it comes to apologies, but they must be backed by tangible actions that illustrate genuine concern.

In the case of the fast food chain, the company offered to cover victims’ medical expenses, settling for amounts of up to 15.6 million dollars. The COO and chairman-cum-CEO attended mediation hearings to show their concern. The chain also opened a question hotline and made a generous donation to research efforts seeking treatment for infections caused by the bacterium behind the outbreak.

This demonstration of remorse and accountability in actions big and small communicated the company’s commitment to doing better.

Establish Long-Lasting Change

Once apologies have been made in both words and deeds, it’s crucial to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated. It may be tempting to make the blemish disappear from sight, but finding a long-term solution is an indispensable step.

The fast food chain began cooking its burgers at temperatures guaranteed to kill the guilty bacteria. It also implemented additional safety measures to ensure the food was handled properly from producer to consumer. In fact, this system was so successful that it was later endorsed by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration and came to be considered the gold standard among fast food chains.

The company didn’t stop there: it became so invested in harm-free dining that it continues to receive honors for its leadership in food safety to this day.

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Believe it or not, mistakes can be a blessing in disguise. For this to be true, decision makers must think glass half full. Slip-ups present an opportunity to demonstrate your brand’s leadership, transparency, and trustworthiness—and all of this at a time when you’re already in the spotlight. Just make sure it’s for better, not for worse.

A well-known pizza chain faced a rude awakening when one of its employees shared a video of himself tarnishing food in the kitchen. When the video went viral, it turned out the company had an even bigger problem on its hands: they admitted that customers had been complaining of pizza that tasted “like cardboard” and sauce that tasted “like ketchup.”

Instead of succumbing to an apparently imminent downfall, the company’s leaders decided to come clean and promised to improve their product. Shortly thereafter, they introduced a new pizza recipe, as well as a novel online ordering system designed to appeal to the younger generation. Their shares increased sixty-fold and the company is now worth 60 billion dollars.

Next Time You’re Caught in a Mistake, Stay Calm and Innovate

Businesses are no more perfect than humans. Every organization will face its day of reckoning, big or small. Luckily, history demonstrates that it’s not the mistake itself, but the response, that leaves a lasting impression. And as in the case of the fast food chain, if addressed properly, a foul-up can even be turned into an asset.

So, next time your business finds itself in a rough spot, remember the importance of accepting blame and saying you’re sorry. Then roll up your sleeves, fill your metaphorical glass, and turn the blunder into your next wonder.

Emily Safrin is a certified Spanish-to-English translator and editor specializing in the medical sector. She is also an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA), which represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

The Effects of High Unemployment

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Ten years ago, the unemployment rate was running high. Businesses needing to hire found themselves in a “buyer’s market.” This was what I wrote back then:

There are plenty of people looking for work. This results in more applicants to pick from for each opening. High unemployment has also served to limit employment options, thereby reducing worker mobility. The result is that employee churn rates are—or at least should be—decreasing. Having more applicants to pick from and fewer staff leaving by choice should be indicative of stable work forces. Unfortunately, this may not be the case and even if it is, it affords a false security.

Consider the following employees. Although their names have been changed and some details obscured, all describe the true plights of real people: With downsizing, layoffs, hiring freezes, employees have been stretched and pushed to a near breaking point. Click To Tweet

Chuck worked in a small satellite office of a large organization. The staff in his office were close and worked together well. They cared for each other and were like family. They helped each other to complete their work and serve clients, regardless of job description and title. Sadly, this idyllic reality ended when corporate closed Chuck’s office to save money. Some people were let go, but Chuck was told that he could work remotely from home. Then Chuck got a new boss, who rescinded that promise. Chuck now commutes 120 miles each day to work. The corporate office is nothing like his old office. Teamwork has been replaced by finger-pointing and blindly following job descriptions; no one cares about the clients—or about each other. One by one, Chuck’s coworkers have quit or are being let go. He fears he is next and is frantically looking for comparable work closer to home.

Carly is a college graduate whose chosen profession currently has a 40 percent unemployment rate. Unable to find work, she went to grad school. Her summer employment offered her a full-time position when she graduated but has been frustratingly vague on the details (right now she is relegated to computer work no one else wants to do). Unfortunately, this job is not in her field of study, nor does it interest her. However, out of necessity, she may be forced to take this job. Even if she does, she doesn’t expect to remain long.

Danielle also recently graduated from college. Her college internship continued after graduation, with the promise of a promotion when the economy turned around. She is now doing the work she was trained for—but without the title, recognition, or pay. This has been going on for a year. Although she is now working full-time, it is at her part-time hourly internship rate—or 40 percent of what is typical. She has polished her resume and is looking for better paying alternatives.

Karl has a full-time job in his chosen profession. At first, he liked his company and earned stellar reviews. However, in his latest review, he scored the lowest in each category. Last year, after their busy season, a coworker was abruptly fired. Karl fears that this year he will get the axe as soon as the seasonal peak is over. He is salaried and was initially told to expect working an additional twenty-five hours a week during the busy season. However, his employers recently tacked on an additional ten hours. He desperately wants to find a new job but has no time to pursue it. As soon as things slow down, he will begin his job hunt in earnest.

Larry greatly enjoyed working in his chosen career, finding it rewarding and fulfilling. However, after a planned move out-of-state, he was unable to find work at his level of experience and education. He eventually acquiesced to a much lower position at less than half the pay. The company promotes from within, so he hoped that he would eventually move into a position matching his skills and have his compensation level restored. Unfortunately, because he was performing a low-level position, he was looked down upon and demeaned by those who should have been his peers, in spite of the fact that he had more experience than some of them. The circumstances became so dreadful that he left, taking an even further pay cut in the hopes of finding a nicer place to work. Once again, he has the expectation to be promoted and, although feedback on his performance is very favorable, there are no current openings, so he could find himself repeating the process.

These people share two common characteristics. First, they do not like their employers or their jobs. Some have been lied to, others have been treated badly, two are significantly underpaid, and all are unhappy. The other commonality is that each of them desperately wants a different job and is working to make it happen. Since they have stellar qualifications and employable skills, their job expectations are not unreasonable. When the economy turns around, they are sure to find better work.

From this we can interpolate that:

  • Employees are unhappy, but they continue to endure difficult work situations—for now.
  • Many people are underemployed; they will correct that as soon as companies start hiring again.
  • Some people are working outside their fields of expertise. For many, this is not a choice but a short-term necessity.
  • When an entry-level employee sticks around after graduation, it may not mean that they like the company, but that there aren’t any other options.

What does all this mean?

  • When the economy turns around, many employees will immediately seek to improve their work situations. Some reports indicate that one third of the workforce is waiting to change jobs.
  • The most employable people (likely the best workers) will be the first to switch; those who lack skills or drive will stay.
  • There is pent-up worker frustration, which employers will be confronted with when alternative employment options emerge.

What can employers do?

  • Begin thinking and behaving as though unemployment is low and it’s a “seller’s market.” Treating employees better now, when you don’t have to, will keep them working for you later, when they don’t have to.
  • Recognize that with downsizing, layoffs, hiring freezes, and consolidations, employees have been stretched and pushed to a near breaking point. Look for ways now to relieve stress and reduce their pressure now.
  • Talk to employees and really listen. Perhaps there are slights that can be amended, injustices that can be corrected, and oversights that can be righted.

You can take steps now to keep the employees you have, or you can wait for economic recovery and take steps then to find and train their replacements.

[Update: As predicted, all five found new jobs once the economy turned around. Three found success quickly, but the other two required a bit more time—because the recovery was a tepid one.]

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

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In Tough Times, Treasure your Trials

By Lee EllisLee Ellis

Are you going through tough times?  It may be time to reflect on some who have been down that road before you.

For the POWs in the Vietnam War, facing serious trials became a way of life.  In that bleak existence locked up and isolated in a communist prison camp for five, six, seven and even eight years, every day had its challenges.  The POWs had to depend on their enemy for the meager food that kept them alive. The same sinister enemy used isolation, beatings, and torture in their attempts to exploit them and make them into propaganda pawns for the communist party.  The diet was pitiful and medical care was virtually non-existent.  Yet the POWs emerged stronger, becoming successful military leaders, congressmen, teachers, lawyers, doctors, counselors, businessmen, and even a Senator and Presidential candidate.  They learned to treasure the trials of their hardship.

Not many will have to contend with the tribulations of POW life, but everyone faces hardships and disappointments. For some it’s a work or career crisis. Layoffs and home foreclosures of recent years have cut deep, leaving many in a severe financial crisis that may worsen, with some experts saying that home prices will go down further before we see a slow recovery. For others it’s a health crisis or perhaps a struggling teen, or a relationship that has gone sour. At some point, we all face the pain of trials.  When you’re in dark times or caught up in the chaos of a battle, it isn’t easy to see the treasure in your trials.  Here are some tips to help you refocus toward not only your goals but the true gold found in trials.

Go Deep – Find Meaning and Make Changes: Adversity builds character by forcing us to face our deepest beliefs and values.  In the crucibles of life, when all the pretend stuff melts away it’s much easier to clarify what is really important and what is not. We have the opportunity to find meaning in our suffering and meaning is a treasure worth finding.

The transformation that we most need isn’t very inviting in good times, but in difficult times our pain can give us the energy and motivation to change our attitudes and behaviors.   As Victor Frankl put it, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”  The painful struggles that we would never choose often afford the greatest opportunity for personal growth, and personal growth is the only path to genuine leadership development.

Go Long – Gain Wisdom and Experience: Leadership research confirms that the experience of overcoming difficulties is not only transformational; making us stronger, but it also makes us wiser and better suited for the challenges of leadership.  Wisdom gained through the experience of hard times helps us better navigate future minefields.  Persevering through tough times also increases our confidence, preparing us for future challenges that will surely come.  On the other hand, leaders devoid of crucible experiences are likely to be overly confident about their ideas, and surprisingly more susceptible to fears. Courageously facing our fears in the difficult times gives us both humility and real confidence.  The wisdom garnered in hard times about ourselves and life becomes the wisdom that guides us into a better future.  Additionally, the difficult trials generate strong emotional memories that stay with us longer and are more easily accessed—gold that we don’t have to search so hard to find.

Don’t Go It Alone: When you are in a battle, you don’t want to be alone—you need supporters in your corner—people who care about you and have your back.  They can provide encouragement when your spirit is down and your hope is sagging.  Encouragement can provide vital energy for bouncing back and continuing to persevere. Sometimes a shared idea or a new perspective on a problem can make all the difference.  Just knowing someone is near—that you are not standing alone—can provide the needed inspiration, courage, and energy to persevere, even when everything in you is saying it’s too tough to keep going. Every soldier, sailor, airman, and marine knows it’s not good to fight alone. The same is true for all of us.  We must stay connected to be resilient and bounce back from trials. The lingering treasure is that when you have gone through the fire with someone, usually a bond is formed that brings a special relationship for a lifetime.

More than likely, you have already passed through some tough times in your life.  It may be helpful to look back and see the treasure that you gained from those past challenges.  What was the meaning you gained through those trials?  What did you learn about yourself that may be helpful now?  What changes did you make then?  Who walked with you?

You have a choice. You can let your trials bury you or you can dig for the treasure in them.  If you want to discover the gold in your current pit, then answer these questions: How can you find meaning in your current trial?  What are you learning about yourself?  What changes do you need to make now—in your attitude, mindset or behaviors? What wisdom points are you learning in your current situation that will help you in the future?  Who is walking with you through this fire to provide support?   If you follow these tips, someday, looking back, you will see enormous value in your trials.

Lee Ellis is a speaker and the author of “Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton,” in which he shares stories from his experiences as a Vietnam POW and highlights leadership lessons learned in the camps.  As president of Leadership Freedom, a leadership and team development consulting and coaching company, Lee has consulted in the areas of hiring, teambuilding, executive development, and succession planning for more than 15 years.  For more information, please visit www.freedomstarmedia.com.