If you’ve wandered onto the internet for just a few seconds over the past week, it’s a fair bet that at least one story about Ryan Lochte has made its way into your timeline. The 12-time Olympic medalist was caught in hot water after he fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint while still in Rio. The media instantly ran with the unsubstantiated reports, which were quickly debunked, making Lochte the new public face of shame. His bleach blonde Slim Shady hair certainly didn’t help his image, and at the time of this writing, four major sponsors have dropped the Olympian.
Inevitably, jokes about how poorly Lochte handled everything quickly appeared.
It took Ryan Lochte getting embroiled in an international incident to remind us a very important lesson.
Don't lie to your mom.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 18, 2016
Ryan Lochte’s lie was just given a 6.3
— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) August 18, 2016
"Guys, we're gonna be fine. It's just a damaged gas station bathroom door, now calm down and let me do the talking…" Ryan Lochte
— Danny Zuker (@DannyZuker) August 18, 2016
While the media, and what seemed like the entire internet made fun of Lochte, his transgressions have also provided us with 3 business lessons that we should all take to heart.
1. Don’t lie to your customers
This sounds terribly simple, but unfortunately it’s not something that everyone understands. Sure, the big lies are the ones you hear about in the news, but what about the smaller white lies?
They range from things like “Hey, sorry, but I’m busy this weekend” to, “That dish was amazing, I can’t believe you made it yourself!” In the moment, those answers might seem like the right way to approach the situation, but down the road, you’ll likely have to confront those lies.
“Did you tell a potential client that your product could do x, y, and z? Then it better be able to do all [of] those things. Sure, making the sale is what you’re trying to accomplish, as you have quotas to hit and commissions to make, but if you [close] a sale based on faulty information, you’re going to be in a world of trouble.”
Eventually, the client is going to try and use some of the functionalities they were promised, only to find that your words were hollow. The best case scenario is that you’ll lose the sale, and hurt the reputation of your company with that client. The worst case (and possibly more likely) scenario is that you’ll lose the sale, that client will complain on social media and hurt the reputation of your company on a much larger scale, and you’ll find yourself out of a job.
When in doubt, just remember what Mr. Rogers said.
2. Communication is key
While this tip likely wouldn’t have helped Lochte and his teammates, as video evidence is the ultimate trump card, it can certainly save you and your team some unnecessary embarrassment.
When prospects and leads come in from different channels, it’s possible for a potential client to have conversations with more than one salesperson. This situation could lead to confusion if the sales team isn’t on the same page.
For example, if there was a recent pricing change, and only Jim was made aware of the updated information, his teammate, Adolfo, could give the same prospect an entirely different quote. If that happens, you’ve just successfully annoyed the potential customer, as they now have no idea what they’re going to pay; and worse, the sale is likely lost, because you’ve destroyed any trust that may have existed previously.
3. Always have a damage control plan
If you happen to find yourself in a PR nightmare, there’s only one thing you can do, and once again, it’s to be honest. Humans are a tricky group to figure out. One minute we’re all at someone’s throat, but given enough time, and some corrective actions, there’s not much we won’t forgive.
Take for example, Lochte’s own teammate, Michael Phelps. In 2014, he was arrested for drunk driving, which was his second DUI charge.
“Documents show Phelps was stopped on Sept. 30 for speeding and crossing the double yellow line while driving in the Fort McHenry Tunnel. Police say Phelps registered a .14 percent on a blood-alcohol test. The legal limit is .08 percent in Maryland.
An officer said he pulled Phelps over for going 84 in a 45 mph zone.”
Phelps nearly doubled both the legal drinking limit for operating a vehicle, as well as the speed limit in the area where he was driving. Both actions could have lead to disastrous results, yet we were willing to forgive the man who’s now the most decorated Olympian in history.
However in Lochte’s case, it seems everyone is ready to get rid of him completely. He undoubtedly made an egregious misstep, and that shouldn’t be glossed over. By creating a story about being robbed at gunpoint, he further stoked the already flaming reputation of Rio as a city of lawlessness. For months in the lead up to the 2016 Olympics, we were inundated with stories about how dangerous the environment would be for everyday people; and Lochte’s story of terror and robbery only incensed those claims.
Other than his initial lie, Lochte’s biggest problem was not having a plan of attack after the scandal took over the news cycle. While it would have been impossible to be prepared for this specific situation, there were steps Lochte could have taken to help mitigate the damage he caused.
- Be as transparent as possible
- Make amends
- Stay on top of it
Once Lochte’s story made its way into the public sector, he should have immediately taken control, and owned up for his actions. Instead, he doubled down during an interview with Billy Bush, and furthered the narrative that he had been the victim of an armed robbery. Then, with Matt Lauer, he blamed his less than accurate story on the fact that he was still inebriated during the Bush interview; again, pushing the blame off himself.
If there’s a central message to take away from “Lochtegate”, it’s that honesty is always the best policy. That phrase undoubtedly set off every cliche alarm bell in your body, but that doesn’t make the message wrong. Had Lochte told the truth from the outset, or owned up for his actions immediately, he wouldn’t have found himself in this mess at all; and the same is true for business encounters. There may be opportunities to embellish the truth to get ahead, but that’s never the right approach.
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