10 Reasons Why The Komen Foundation Should Stop Lying about Defunding Planned Parenthood

by cv harquail on February 3, 2012

It always hurts when organizations lie.

Lying hurts the organization, the employees, the organization’s partners, the organization’s prospects, and most importantly, lying hurts the organization’s constituents. 5326715777_727dc212d9_b.jpg

When an organization does something that sparks a”‘reputation crisis”, the absolute worst way to respond is to lie.

As the reputation crisis of the Susan J. Komen Foundation continues, everyone is watching how Komen’s corporate “explanation” is unfolding. Well, it’s actually not unfolding, it’s imploding and exploding at the same time. Each iteration of their explanation is more desperate and more tone deaf than the last, as they embellish their lies.

Some of their “explanations” are so far away from their original claims that you can feel sure that they are on-the-spot fabrications. But I digress.

It’s not the poor quality of the lying, but the fact that Komen continues to lie at all, that is hurting the organization and damaging its reputation.

In a reputation crisis, it never ever helps to lie. Here’s why:

10 Reasons Why The Komen Foundation Should Stop Lying

1. When your organization lies, the lies offend the intelligence of your constituents.

“Whaddya think, we’re stupid? ” they ask. Your audience can read the leaked memos in The Atlantic or the NYT, they can read the reports of people and organizations who’ve been lobbying you to go anti-choice for years, and they can read the public statements of your executives.

Your constituents and the larger audience can actually see the lies, right there in print. To assume they won’t see you contradict yourself treats them as stupid.

2. When your organization lies, it disrespects your constituents’ relationships with you.

By lying, you are telling your constituents that they are not important enough, that your relationship with them is not important enough, and their support is not important enough, to be respected with the truth.

3. When your organization lies, it’s proof positive that your organization is itself profoundly stupid.

What, you can’t find the real explanation for your own behavior? The real criteria for your own decisions? The real values that shape your priorities? If you can’t explain your behavior with a real understanding of their sources, you’re a stupid (as in, dumb) organization.

4. When your organization lies, it makes people wonder what else you’re lying about.

Organizations that lie don’t do it once and a while, just on special occasions. They do it over and over. It’s only a matter of time before your other lies are uncovered.

5.. When your organization lies, it reinforces all the emotional dynamics of denial.

You can’t avoid the anxiety, guilt, embarrassment or shame that are part and parcel of lies. Even if you think no one else sees the lies (see #1, above), you know you’re lying. That eats away at whatever’s left of your organization’s heart, and corrodes what’s left of your integrity.

6. When your organization lies, the activity devoted to lying distracts you from more effective damage control.

You’re too busy lying to acknowledge the pain you’re causing. Even if you are, for a time, unwilling to admit the breadth of your responsibility, the very least you can do is say you’re sorry to the people you’re hurting. But, while you’re busy lying to Andrea Mitchell, you’re wasting the very opportunity you could use to apologize to your constituents.

7. When your organization lies, it embarrasses your employees.

Your employees know the truth. Do you want them all to resign in protest, or even worse, to continue working for a company they can no longer respect? When employees can’t respect your organization, they won’t do anything more than they must. That’s a great way to push your organization to fail.

8. When your organization lies, you block your organization off from any opportunity to learn from the initial mistake.

You and your organization get wrapped up in ‘cognitive distortion’. You don’t hear the truth about others’ reactions to your betrayal, so you miss chances to hear helpful feedback. You don’t learn about your constituents and their concerns, you don’t learn how to handle a crisis, and you won’t learn about yourselves.

9. When your organization lies, your leaders look incompetent.

Because they are.

10. When your organization lies, it makes it hard for you ever to be forgiven, by anyone4001173179_1286663d25_b.jpg.

Only those with super-human spirituality can easily rise above a crushing blow of betrayal (see #2, above) to forgive you and give your organization another chance. The rest of your constituents will take a long time to come around, if ever. And in the meantime, they won’t be supporting you.

Finally, there’s a bonus reason why your organization should stop lying.

Bonus Reason #11. When your organization lies, it makes it hard for anyone to ever trust your organization again.

Even if your organization reverses the decision that caused exposed the problem in the first place,

Nothing gets fixed until you tell the truth, to your constituents and to yourselves.

See also:


Sybil Stershic February 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Well said, CV! A solid brand is built on trust.

cv harquail February 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Hi Sybil-
The impact on their brand will be profound, especially since the conversation aobut this crisis (as compared to previous ones like their cobranding with KFC) has gone way beyond the marketing community and hit pretty much everyone. It’s 360 degrees of damage.
It will be fascinating to watch this play out– and to see what, if anything, Koman learns. So far, it’s not too promising…

Leila Monaghan February 4, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Well said CV. I am so pissed at them now that I, who never had a grudge against Komen before, will actively not buy stuff with pink ribbons on in. The apology helped marginally but my anti-Komen stance has been hardened by all the other information coming out about Komen intimidating other cancer organizations and lobbying against women oriented health care provisions in the health care act.

virginia Yonkers February 4, 2012 at 7:29 pm

More important to the lies is how they think that by firing one person will make amends for the bread down in their organization. We saw this at Penn State and we see this in Komen. One person could not have made a decision with such far reaching consequences unless 1) there was support from others in power or 2) the one person was given power to make decisions unilaterally.

Either way, there was a lack of institutional thoughtfulness in strategic decisions. Then, to cover up the institutional incompetitance, executives fire a scapegoat and start making up excuses to appease their constituents. They believe this will protect their image, but as you so eloquently outlined above, it has the opposite effect. This was not one person’s decision. This was an institutional breakdown that was targeted towards all women. What is unfortunate was that Susan Komen, for which the organization was named, deserved more as do those that work in the trenches (codos for Komen, Ct. for standing up to the national organization).

Jordi February 7, 2012 at 10:35 am

Been too long.

GREAT post! I am teaching Enron this week, and your points are super relevant about the practical impact of lying above and beyond the “deontological” problems with it.

I do want to suggest an alternative reason for the lies. Lying is born out of the political plate tectonic pressures of stakeholders. Politics, the kind that matter to all organizations, is about how to meet the multiple pressures of multiple constituencies. The SGK foundation believed it had several stakeholders it needed to respond to. Both in its initial attempt to prohibit grants to recipients under investigation and it in its walk-back in which it said it would not make grants to those found “… to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political”, SGK is trying to find language that will keep its warring constituents happy.

So, maybe lying is failed politics. Or failed political speech. If you can not convince your constituents, or if you can not quiet those rumbling plate tectonics, the temptation to keep everyone happy will lead closer and closer to lying.

Finally, that raises the question of whether your goal in stakeholder management is to make everyone happy or, as this case suggests, to be more honest about differences with your constituents. I blogged some about this: http://bizgovsoc2.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/truth-and-lies-around-the-pink-ribbons/

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