“No you can’t apologize!” Chris, the Legal Advisor warned Father John, CEO of Kimeza mission hospital who was anxious to issue an apology following revelation that there was a mother who had received a different baby, only for the hospital to realize the error, soon after she had left. The mother had to be recalled and told the mistake. Appalled, at first she insisted against exchanging the lovely baby she had just got attached to. But once the facts were made clear, and she heard there was another mother expecting this very baby, she relented. In fact, when she saw her very baby she calmed down with relief. But, still, she wasn’t amused. “Is this how do things here!” Clutching her own baby she stormed out of the hospital in disgust while threatening never to return.
Initially there was an attempt to seal the matter as an in house issue. However, someone got the incident out into the local press. Soon the story was making rounds on talk show radio, going viral on socio media. “It is not the first time with Kimeza hospital,” one caller on a popular talk show volunteered. “Switching babies happens there all the time.”
“Those people are so cruel!” an anonymous account on Face book lambasted the hospital. “They do that all the time.” Meanwhile Whatsap forums were on fire with many questioning what type of hospital is that with such a sloppy baby identification system. “I bet they also mix up bodies!”
Once he got hold of the issue Father John, the CEO, felt that being the custodian of the public relations of the hospital it was incumbent upon him to issue a public apology. As a godly man apologies came natural with him, since he also earned a living by listening to people repent their sins. Moreover, this was a private hospital and Father John knew the success of the business depended on retaining the confidence of customers. So why not issue a press apology to calm down temperatures.
But just as he was about to the legal officer came up to his office and protested. “It will be like an admission of wrong which might be used against us in court to seek punitive damages!” Chris cautioned.
Organizations, whether there are involved in services or manufacturer of goods, will inevitably make errors. This is also true in the management of their very staff. There is a case of a CEO who once received certain information about a staff that was alleged to be involved in unethical behaviors. Trusting the source the CEO acted fast and dismissed the staff only to realize later that he had acted on wrong information. He then wondered if he should recall the staff and apologize remorsefully. Yet the Head of Human Resource ( HR) cautioned him against. “But why?” asked the CEO.
“Next we shall be having a suit of wrongful termination,” was HRs point of view.
Now, from a human point of view, offering apologies is what is considered good breeding, especially once one concedes of having made a honest mistake, which everyone does, every once in a while. However, when it comes to managing organizations the issues could be far more complicated. In the above case if Father John proceeds to issue a written apology, there is all the possibility of the offended mother and possibly others with similar experiences to seize upon that confession, launch a suit, where this “public apology” is used as evidence against the organization.
An important point to note here is that there is a distinction between offering an apology in a personal capacity and that one in the name of the organization. In those situation where one is only offering personal apologies that might be a non-issue. But where one speaks for an organization the consequences of that public apology is beyond the person. The organization may later be put to task.
So, if one must to, one way of going about is where a manager is advised to proceed but with a carefully legally worded statement where responsibility is not owned up. There are cases where matters can be left to die of their own without stalking fire by exciting someone eager to pick on words. In other situations an apology can be issued because management has weighed there will more damage done with bad publicity arising from the incident. The organization decides to take the risk hoping the apology will calm temperatures and let the matter rest.
The writer is a Management Consultant and Associate Professor of Management, Uganda Christian University, Mukono. E- mail: firstname.lastname@example.org