April 19, 2018

Wow, What a Week of Apologies! Let’s Take a Look at What Worked—and What Didn’t.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know it’s been a week of public apologies: multiple executives at Starbucks have spoken up in response to the public outrage following the actions of an employee, while Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky attempted to clean up statements he made about the ramifications of a teacher walkout on Kentucky’s students. (Specifically, he stated that a teachers’ strike left children vulnerable to sexual assault and drug use, telling reporters “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them.”)

As I’m sure you can tell by the way I phrased the above, I think Starbucks has done a good job while Mr. Bevin’s apology—to put it mildly—fell short.

(Please note: this is not an endorsement of what occurred at Starbucks—which was appalling. This is a statement about the efficacy of how the situation is being handled.)

What do I like about the Starbucks approach? There has been accountability—and action.

Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz, said, “I’m embarrassed, ashamed. I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level. I think I take it very personally as everyone in our company does and we’re committed to making it right.”

Additionally, Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson put out a video that included, “We are accountable. I am accountable…I own it.” He also put out a letter that ended, “You can and should expect more from us. We will learn from this and be better.” Since that time, Starbucks has stated they will close 8,000 stores for one afternoon in May for racial bias training.

In contrast, amidst quite a bit of blither blather about how he was misunderstood and communication is a tricky thing, Mr. Bevin’s apology included the following, “I apologize for those who have been hurt by the things that were said.”

Um….by you, Sir– the things that were said by you. If I were one of Kentucky’s teachers grading this apology, it would receive an F.

So, on the off chance you need to apologize for anything anytime soon, my thinking is that making a statement that includes both accountability and action will help to rectify the situation in a timelier—and complete—manner.

For more on what constitutes an effective (and ineffective!) apology, please see “I’m Sad for the Repercussions of my Actions’….FOR REAL??” or “Mic Snatching Aside, Kanye’s Apology Didn’t Wow” or “Dear Tiger, “I’m Sorry’s” Only Please.

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