Last week the Winter Olympic Games officially opened in Sochi with a beautiful ceremony that illustrated that the city, while crammed with athletes, supporters and journalists, may not be entirely ready for the games.
Every 2 years the world watches as a new city hosts the games and world class athletes compete for the gold. But what happens when the focus shifts from their accomplishments to a host city’s failures?
I won’t detail all of the problems which range from human rights abuses to community toilets; you can read most of them on the Twitter feed here. The real question is how we as business owners can learn from this failure and how to recover with the grace of an athlete.
1. Be Prepared
While Russia has had plenty of notice for the games, rumors of missing funds, trouble getting supplies and the infrastructure needed for an Olympic stage made the city unprepared for the scrutiny. While deadlines are important, unlike Sochi, you can push back a launch date or program in order to be prepared. Because in addition to resolving the problems that come up, energy must also be given to pacifying the unhappy customers.
It’s okay to delay a major undertaking to get things right; you’re not hosting the Olympics.
2. Manage Perceptions
One of the major surprises for journalists and reporters upon arriving in Sochi was the unfinished state of, well, most everything. They were flummoxed by the lack of bathrooms, manhole covers, even check-in desks. With news that Russia had invested over $50 billion in the games, the press core was left scratching their head thinking “where did it all go?!”
We mistakenly raise the expectations for our own launches, product delivery, and more in the race to get more “hype” in business. Hype is fine, as long as you can back it up. Years ago I laughed as a colleague launched a course with “high def videos!” that turned out to be screen captures of PowerPoint. Instead of bragging about how much you’ve invested, why not talk honestly about the infrastructure and how it benefits the end user.
Clients and customers want results, not to know how much you spent on building it.
3. Over Communicate
In this crazy, unpredictable world we can’t control everything. So when something does go wrong, communication restores trust. Now, in Sochi it may be hard to hear “the contractor laundered money, and we will not be getting toilet stall doors for 2 months” but if that’s the truth, share it. There is also an element of making it right, of doing what you can do in the meantime if possible.
In business, communication is the foundation – especially for an online business that doesn’t have a face-to-face presence. It’s one of the reasons social media is so powerful, giving a glimpse into our lives one picture or tweet at a time. Be careful as you share not to over communicate failures. A constant stream of mistakes and problems won’t help trust, it’ll defeat it.
When problems occur, admit them and communicate openly to find a solution. Don’t hide.
4. Be Gracious
Within hours of the first guests arriving in Sochi we had blogs, Twitter hashtags and stories filed about the worst of the worst. And in the midst of it all, it seems some may have forgotten they are, in fact, guests. In one of the best personal responses I’ve seen, this resident replies that “the people of Sochi remained confident in their city” (read the full reply here). In the midst of such a firestorm of publicity and frankly horrible PR, it’s important to remember that there are real people who are being mocked and mercilessly teased about their city, their home.
When it’s your turn in the hot seat you pray for kindness and compassion. When things go wrong, good companies and people want to make things right. So be gracious, say thank you, and act like a guest should. Beyond the borders of the Olympic games, be kind to the cashier who forgot to ring up part of your purchase or the traffic cop who is trying to keep the construction zone safe.
Because for all the problems in Sochi, there are millions watching from afar who would be honored to view this slice of history in person.