Corporations, particularly those who purport to be interested in sustainability, need to bravely report where no reports have gone before. Many firms instinctively shield their failures from the public, however, forward looking corporations know that even here there is value to transparency.
Although it is hard to avoid getting defensive about shortcomings, being forthcoming about weakness augurs transformative opportunities. Those who have the courage to honestly acknowledge the facts are in a position to change the paradigm. Problems are transformed into an exercise in problem-solving. Identifying weakness becomes an invitation to improve.
PR guru Lou Hoffman says that transparency pays. Hoffman is the founder of PR firm The Hoffman Agency. "[A] company can garner goodwill from the public for being honest, transparent, and accountable," Hoffman said in an EcoBusiness interview at the recent Asia 360 conference in Singapore.
"In the earnest, fact-based world of sustainability communications there is no room for spin, but companies need to be brave enough to talk about failure." Companies hate talking about their failures, especially when it comes to sustainability. According to Hoffman, being open about their weaknesses as well their achievements might help firms avoid one of the biggest corporate communications sins - being boring. A company that has been forthright about their shortcomings will build trust so that consumers will be more forgiving if things go wrong.
Missteps are part of a good sustainability story. Having problems is not the problem while failing to report them in a clear and accurate way can be. However, disclosing weaknesses in the absence of corrective action is a recipe for disaster. Companies can redeem themselves if they are prepared to respond. As explained by Hoffman.
"If a company doesn’t have a solution, it would be risky. But if the company has taken the right steps and has addressed the issue, then it’s no longer in question whether or not they will do the right thing."
The key proviso here is sincerity, an organization that is truly earnest will benefit from transparency. Hoffman says that by admitting mistakes companies can bank goodwill and that can pay lucrative dividends when something goes seriously wrong.