The horse meat crisis and a challenge to openness

It has been a strange week. As I was sat in the office, in meetings and working with staff all on the theme of how we can be more open and transparent about what we do, the horse meat in food saga was rumbling on. My focus was about ensuring that officers and staff have honest conversations with people and ask why not provide information rather than ask why to share it. While in Findus it appears according to the Daily Mirror tomorrow (Saturday 9 February) they knew about the horse meat issue and did not act until almost two weeks later.

The food industry has been dealt a huge reputational blow due to recent events which as I write it seems it has no way out of. This is partly because there is little public acceptance at a senior level that the misrepresentation was wrong and that someone needs to come out and appear on camera to discuss the situation. There needs to be clear accountability shown if we can start to move forward and above all this there has to be an honesty from across the food industry.

If in the next few days and weeks more revelations continue to surface about what is within the contents of food then the situation will spiral downward. Many times I have spoken about how during a crisis honesty and apologising when things go wrong are essential. There is no sense in trying to hide issues because they will be found out and aired within the media or through social media. During a crisis, senior staff need to face up to any issues they have and make sure they act before the public lose any confidence at all.

As I watch this food scandal play out in the media I am shocked by the approach the companies are taking in communicating during the crisis. I am not complacent about the work I am involved in but what I am seeing just would not be acceptable. My approach has always been to make sure the maximum amount of information that can be released and when apologies are required they are provided. The communication plan would be in place within hours and it would be rooted in openness and accountability with senior officers appearing on camera swiftly. All the activity would be focused on maintaining confidence as much as possible.

Delivering communication that is open and honest is not always an easy road to travel and will lead to challenge and criticism at times. However, it is only when you can face up to the positive and negative of what is being said about an organisation that you can really start to move forward. When an organisation has the maturity to truly listen to people then it can develop and build a level of trust while also being able to improve the service or product. Never has there been a better time to make sure you are listening to people as with the rise of social media they will come straight to you to tell you. I hope my week ahead can build on the past five days focused on open discussions and information sharing.

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