Recently, Susan G. Komen for the Cure® faced an avalanche of criticism when they announced their decision to eliminate most of their grants to Planned Parenthood. Within hours, the decision dominated online chatter and social media outlets, making it the lead headline on the network news cable news, and almost every major newspaper and online news-site across the country. Realizing they had made a major misstep, Komen eventually released a statement of “apology,” and revised their decision.
Now that the dust has begun to settle, it’s worth taking some time to address Komen’s apology and assess its effectiveness. In my view, the apology was flawed for several different reasons.
First and foremost, the apology rang hollow. Why? Because Komen seemed more focused on asking the public to relax and calm down, rather than truly seek forgiveness. As they put it, “We believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down and reflect.” They also urged “everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country … to help us move past this issue.”
I understand Komen’s leadership desperately wanted to put the barrage of criticism behind them, but when you make a mistake, part of the learning process means having to hear from those you’ve disappointed. And if you’re an organization that raises millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of donors, you should be willing to show some patience.
Second, Komen tried to deflect their blame as a misunderstanding between why the decision was made and how the public interpreted it. According to the Foundation, the criticism erupted as “a presumption” from the public that the decision was based on politics. Building upon that theme they insisted they did not want their “mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.”
But was it really the public’s fault that their decision became politicized? Surely, they recognized well before issuing the new policy that there would be major political ramifications. If not, you would have to wonder if their policy team was asleep at the wheel, which in itself would warrant an apology.
Most importantly, the apology was ineffective because despite using more than 300 words to express their “apology,” not once did Komen “take full responsibility” for the decision, and the fallout that rocked the organization. Within hours of the decision being deemed unacceptable by millions of people who had supported Komen in the past, they should have recognized immediately that they had greatly misjudged the public’s reaction.
In my view, taking full responsibility for that misjudgment would have gotten Komen quite a bit farther in repairing the public’s trust. When an individual, a company, or an organization has done something wrong, you can never underestimate how important “taking full responsibility” can be to repairing the relationship between the public and those at fault. Taking responsibility, showing patience, and admitting your flaws in judgment are some of the most important keys to making a genuine, sincere, and effective apology.