stumbleYOUR BUSINESS screwed up. Publicly.

You had that blowup with the big customer, and they’re threatening a lawsuit.  The press is snooping around and is going to eviscerate you on the front page of the business section.

Things are getting ugly and the pressure is on.

Like it or not, this is bound to happen to you a few times during your lifetime.  The world’s a messy place, people screw up, and there’s things outside your control.  And there’s no way to turn back time.

This is especially a challenge for values-based businesses, because you don’t want the market to explain it by you being a money-grubbing jerk.  You’d like to think that you have higher standards than that.

When you have high aspirations, you have further to fall.

But it’s really not about the fall from grace, it’s about the recovery.

When I worked in high tech, I heard a legend about the early days of IBM.  As I recall (Google is being unhelpful at the moment) there was a situation where a customer had a big problem with their mainframe computer, and their business went down.  IBM’s response was to fly an entire group of people to the customer’s site, with explicit instructions to stay there until the problem was 100% fixed.  To the customer’s satisfaction and delight.

You might also remember the Tylenol tampering scare of 1982, resulting in seven deaths.  Johnson & Johnson quickly went back to its core values, recalled every bottle around the country (value: $100 million), and didn’t ship anything until they’d put an entirely new anti-tamper package in place.

This remains one of the strongest examples of companies which remain true to their core principles, despite the short-term cost.  I’ve even heard of companies which chose to shut their doors rather than sacrifice their beliefs.

Even when the problems are large, there’s often opportunity to recover even stronger.  When done well, you’ll impress customers, employees and partners with your courage, honesty and principled action.  It’s when people try to cover up mistakes that they get pilloried.

Big problems are big tests of your character and resolve.  Be courageous, and do the right thing.  Even if you take a big hit in the short term.