The truth will set your business free

Following last week’s furore over inauguration attendance numbers and ‘alternative facts’ I’ve seen more than a few people posting this quote, taken from George Orwell’s 1984:

"The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

It’s hardly a subtle accusation - that people in positions of power are trying to use that power to manipulate the truth. Or, to take the more nuanced version, embracing relatively trivial arguments in order to distract us from more serious ones elsewhere.

The ultimate conclusion many have come to is that ‘truth’ is in short supply. I disagree. In fact, I think truth is more abundant than it has ever been. Orwell may have wisely foreseen phenomena such as mass surveillance and computer dication, but he didn’t count on widespread access to the internet and smartphones.

Yes, social media networks have undoubtedly enabled lies to spread. But today’s rapid access to information also allows false information to be identified as such far quicker than any other time in history. I’m currently writing this from outside of London. If I came across a ‘fake news’ story about, for example, a fire at my office, it would take less than five minutes to find out this wasn’t the case.

Although it was backed up by a huge amount of rhetoric, President Trump benefitted from this during his campaign. He cut through the Democrats’ attempts to put a positive gloss on their record over the last eight years, picking up on the real (i.e. truthful) concerns of those who didn’t feel like they were better off under Obama. He will now face the same treatment from his opponents during his time in office.

Businesses will be held to account in a very similar way. Not just by shareholders, regulators, or the press, but by their customers and employees. Instant, open, communication means that head office can no longer sell a corporate image that doesn’t tie in with with the staff or customer experience. Firms of all sizes have found themselves exposed, at significant cost (note how rare it has become for a company to try and hide redundancies, for example).

But it’s far more than a reputational risk that needs careful management. Fostering a culture of openness can change your business for the better. Take Domino’s, who made the unusual move back in 2010 of admitting “we suck”, meeting their critics head on. It paid off - by taking it on the chin and actively communicating their transformation plan, their stock price didn’t just rebound, it rocketed. In the UK, Lidl’s clever advertising campaigns have directly addressed their sceptics.

Conversations about your brand are happening all the time, whether you’re part of them or not. Embrace it and listen to the truths your stakeholders are telling you - they will set your business free.

What are the corporate turnaround stories that have inspired you? I’d love to know.


Yapster Admin