When William Shakespeare wrote "This above all, to thine own self be true" (Hamlet) he wasn't offering business advice and he would likely have been skeptical that it might be cited as such more than 400 years later. But in an era when transparency and authenticity are increasingly critical, it remains sound advice. As Julie Urlaub, founder and managing partner of the Taiga Company and author of The Business Sustainability Handbook puts it; "It's like when you Photoshop life. It might be a beautiful image, but it's not real." She encourages companies to understand that what engages people (be they employees, customers, communities, etc.) is when companies are not afraid and let down their walls and communicate authentically and honestly.
The mistakes made by businesses are legion. Stonewalling, denying and hiding problems are more what people may expect from businesses, but some have come to recognize that their mistakes offer opportunities to build (or repair) their image. For example, Domino's pizza recently ran ads admitting the mistakes and shortcomings that the company had made. And here's the most important thing -- Domino's earned reputation points for what was a no-risk proposition -- because it was essentially fessing up to something that people already knew. People who had given up on Domino's gave the chain another chance when it admitted its pizzas had been disappointing in the past. Whether or not they are now better remains to be determined by the taste buds of its customers.
Of course it is different when the mistake is based on one's values, but why should it be? Even if a company is 99 percent perfect, that means one percent of its workers might be making a mistake. Not out of malfeasance, or intention, but simply due to the fact that they are human. For larger organizations, the math plays out that for every 1,000 employees, 10 might be making a mistake. It might be major. It might be minor, but never the less, it is a mistake. Stonewalling, covering up and hiding the mistake creates resentment such as that which fueled the "United Breaks Guitars" video. The issue really wasn't that the guitar was broken, but rather the ham-handed way in which customer service handled the situation; "a year-long saga of pass the buck, 'don't ask me', and 'I'm sorry sir, your claim can go nowhere.'"
So it is critical not that a company be perfect, but rather that it endeavor to act in alignment with its articulated values and, by not being afraid to admit when it falls short, increase its reputation for honesty.
Urlaub goes further, pointing out that in some cases; "Imperfections are what inspire capture human hearts and inspire us to be more than what we have been in the past. So imperfections are beautifully embraced."
It is time that businesses understand that putting a positive "spin" on everything, and seeking to avoid the appearance of having ever made a mistake, is in fact, a worse mistake than simply being honest and open with customers. After all, who wants to have a relationship with a liar who cannot admit when they are wrong?