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Domènec Melé, Professor, IESE Business School

How to respond to attacks?

Mon, 11 Feb 2013 09:45:00 +0000 Published in La Vanguardia

receipt There is a great social demand to clarify and overcome cases of corruption and certain accusations that are on everyone's mind. Is it a good strategy to claim that everything is done right or that what was done wrong is water under the bridge? Is it a good strategy to seek justification by saying that other parties also have their cases of corruption?

In business management, for years, four possible strategies have been analyzed in the face of attacks on alleged unethical behavior that undermine the reputation of a company business. I believe that, with the appropriate nuances, they are also applicable to political parties.

The first is simply not to respond to the attacks. This is a bad strategy, except for attacks that are not very credible or discredited by their own content. It can lead to loss of reputation and attacks against business. Defending that what is not being attacked has been done well is obviously equivalent to not responding to the attacks. This is the case of auditing official accounting when what is being attacked is the use of parallel accounting with B money.

Another strategy is of a defensive nature. It seeks to justify as ethical what is being attacked. It is a good strategy when the attacks are based on falsehoods or misinterpretations, but very bad if this is not the case. Sooner or later it will be possible to know what happened and to the previous discredit will have to be added the lies and deceptions of a pretended defense.

Four strategies to follow to respond to corruption attacks
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There is a third strategy of acceptance and change. It consists of investigating thoroughly and not denying the facts, assuming, if necessary, the corresponding guilt. All this accompanied by a sincere change of attitude, adjusted to the social demands in all that they have of truth. Adopting this attitude requires humility and moral courage, but its effects for the institution are usually very positive, even if they are not immediately noticeable.

The fourth strategy is proactive. The reaction of the business is ahead of social demands, while anticipating other foreseeable criticisms. Above all, it tries to do things right not so much out of social demand as out of a sense of responsibility. It implies changes, sometimes drastic, leading to a profound moral regeneration. The latter is what Siemens did, for example, after several years of scandalous bribery in several countries, changing the CEO and other executives and implementing a costly program to prevent similar actions.

Should party executives reflect on these strategies and learn from best practices, adapting them to their circumstances or else, let them deal with the consequences.