Equifax is still reeling from the breach of systems, exposing private information of a staggering 143 million people. On Monday, September 25, 2017, yet another breach at Deloitte, that occurred months ago, was revealed. The firm says few clients were impacted and all of them were notified directly.

Data breaches are an embarrassment for any company, especially one like Deloitte that provides data-security consulting.

Communicating directly with clients whose information was compromised is the right thing to do. Share on X

In my book, High-Stakes Leadership, I talk about a breach at The Home Depot, a company I deeply respect, more so after this event. Just after Frank Blake announced that he would be retiring and the board named Craig Menear to succeed him, The Home Depot experienced a major breach of its IT system. Blake could have said to Menear, “Well, what a shame for you to have this happen so soon, good luck.” He didn’t do that. What Blake did is not only admirable but it provides a model. Here are the five essential actions:

  1. Admit the problem.
  2. Apologize to those impacted.
  3. Support those who will be in the crosshairs.
  4. Organize a response and stay close to it.
  5. Show that you take responsibility by what you do, not just by saying you are doing so.

When data breaches occur or other disasters for that matter, customers want to know one thing: What does it mean for me? In the case of The Home Depot, the answer came swiftly. In a Fortune article, writer Jennifer Reingold said it beautifully, “Within a few hours of that initial phone call, the company apologized to its customers in a statement—mercifully free of mealy-mouthed corporate jargon—on its website and assured them that they would not be liable for any fraudulent charges.” Contrast Blake’s forthrightness with the lack of candor and evasiveness of John Stumpf at Wells Fargo.

Richard Feynman, Nobel winning physicist was speaking of very different technology when he made this remark, but his comments are applicable: “Reality must take precedence over public relations.” I recommend that every leader adopt Feynman’s words as their beacon.

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