Much has been said in recent years about business and the need for transparency. Government regulations have become more stringent, based on “bad behavior” in the business world. Still, some companies seem surprised when their confidential documents surface on subjects ranging from safety to valuing profits over customers to financial indiscretions.
The ensuing negative press and loss of consumer and investor trust significantly impacts the company’s reputation, in some cases quickly destroying a brand that has taken years to build. The aftermath requires apologies, corrective actions, risk management issues, and a number of other measures, if the organization is going to tread the road to recovery and attempt to re-capture its goodwill and good standing.
There will always be an organization that encounters a situation of which it is not proud and believes this information can be kept secret. And maybe it can, for a little while. But, the recent news of the U.S. diplomatic cables made available to the New York Times and several other news organizations is proof that even the federal government is unable to entirely protect confidential documents.
While the current situation of a quarter-million confidential cables becoming public may not reflect a company’s day-to-day operation, there is a related lesson.
Recognizing you probably have firewalls to protect your electronic data and employee signatures on confidentiality agreements, you still must be prepared to deal with the “what if” situations. For example, if you are facing a possible recall, staring at an announcement of a potential data security breach or dealing with a safety hazard, do you have a plan that will enable you to manage the situation in an ethically responsible and transparent manner, and permit you to retain the trust of your employees, customers, investors and vendors because of your honesty?
If not, use the federal cable debacle as your wake-up call to review your crisis plan, assess procedures and check it against your public commitment to transparency, remembering there are no secrets.