This is your company’s Get out of Jail Free card

monopoly baner hidden in street wall

This is your company’s Get out of Jail Free card

I put my steaming soy flat white on the desk the other morning. Opened my email. Started crawling through, deleting the daily junk.

Yawn. There was one from the company. I opened and skimmed through the announcement from some department with which I was fairly unfamiliar. I scrolled down to the bottom. Strange. I didn’t recognise but it was vaguely familiar.

A quick check in the company database showed, yes, that person was with the company. Five. Years. Ago.

My eyes widened. In the other tab of my company Outlook account, the inbox was full. There were 65 other emails from that person. Another flew in. It landed on the top of the stack. Whoa. It was like the owl flicking relentless letters to Harry Potter. And there were still more coming.


Of course, the next few panicked minutes were a blur of action and confusion. Yes, everyone was getting the emails. No, these emails had not been intentionally sent. I could almost feel a red glow over the room and a pulsing alert to MOVE FAAAST.

The plug was pulled on the email system. What is usually an international airport of electronic messages criss-crossing to different targeted destinations came to a sudden halt. I was tasked to make the obligatory amusing notice depicting, technical issues, the robot having a breakdown. The conservative company becoming casual. The quick mea culpa was drafted to sound both sincere and dismissive.

It took a little while for IT to investigate the scope of the problem and the cause. Angry calls and emails had been trickling in by this time.


As it turned out, the company had regurgitated nearly ONE MILLION old emails . But there were no bad actors. No data had been leaked. There was no hack, no privacy, or security breaches. It was a tiny human error from a human who had, fortunately, not been me.

No one was hurt. Or killed. But with nearly a million emails, the implications were in no way harmless.

Worst-case scenarios crowded my mind.

If you can’t trust a company with an email list, how can you trust them with your credit card? How can you rely on them for anything important?

I could see how badly this would land.

So what do you do when that happens? How do you survive a mishap that can result in huge reputational risk?

My friend, this is a When not an If. Even with the best automation, the foolproof system, the auto-scheduler.

It’s life. Accidents and incidents happen that fall outside the control of the most careful hands. So when it, this is my playbook.

Investigate and isolate.

1. First, find out what the heck went wrong and fix it. Mitigate further risk and isolate the root cause.

Apologise, sincerely

2. Second, be humble. Acknowledge your mistake, like a good human. This is your opportunity to exercise those brand personality muscles — you know the ones — the facet of your brand that has a relatable, human dimension.

Explain candidly

3. Explain what happened quite honestly and candidly. Then, use your get out of jail free card.

You know, the classic Monopoly board game with a square that can make or break you. Landing in the slammer will pretty much kill any chance at winning that game. Unless you have currency — a huge wad of cash or a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Your vision and purpose is your get out of jail free card. Show your card, the game keeps playing.

Weave it all back to the vision statement

4. Weave your story back to your Vision Statement.

Say thank you for your understanding and patience. Thank you for helping us through our insert de-escalating explanation in order to insert worthy purpose so that we can insert emotionally compelling vision of the world.

Will this guarantee forgiveness? No. Especially if it’s a sorry-not-sorry, kind of apology, like Netflix was guilty of in 2011. But ultimately people don’t really want to leave you, because that’s work. It’s a hassle. So apologies, thank them, and remind them why they should stay. If you do a decent job, they will.

Reward loyalty

5. Then, you may want to reward your customers. Give something that demonstrates how much their trust in you means , such as a free month’s subscription, free coffee at your venues, whatever is right for you.

Photo by Dave Schumaker on Flickr

All organisations need to have a clear reason for being. More importantly, that rational reason needs to ladder down into an emotional reason. It’s in that emotional territory where you will find forgiveness.

If you do that well, people will see your little stuff-ups as, well, little stuff-ups. Minor irritations.

A lofty vision and a meaningful mission that people feel in their hearts. They are your greatest asset. And your get out of jail, free card.