Saying Sorry: Responding to Our Mistakes

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Mistakes are a part of life. When they are made, I am most interested in how people or organizations respond to them. Late last week, Intuit software President and CEO, Brad Smith, provided a noteworthy example of how to gracefully respond to a mistake.

In late 2014 Intuit made an error. It wasn’t colossal, but it made their customers angry and resulted in a significant public backlash (see Forbes for more details). In short, they made changes in their tax software functionality from the year previous without letting customers know. As a result, some customers faced the unexpected need to upgrade their software (pay more money!) to get the supplemental tax forms they required.

Smith posted the following apology on LinkedIn:

“Even with the best of intentions, we find ourselves in situations where we mess up, letting down the people who count on us. The past two weeks have been a humbling refresher of this lesson for me and for our company. Our intention was to align our desktop, online and mobile versions to deliver faster innovation and improved experiences for all customers, but our execution left much to be desired. We didn’t communicate enough before implementing the change, and we were slow to react once we began hearing the much-deserved anger and disappointment from some of our customers. Simply stated, we messed up. This isn’t the first time we’ve made a mistake, and I wish I could promise that it will be our last. But I’m a realist, and I recognize that the pursuit of perfection doesn’t guarantee that outcome. What I can promise is that we won’t make the same mistake again. We have learned some important lessons that we have documented and shared across our company. My hope in sharing this with you is that we can pay it forward. 

To all of our affected TurboTax desktop customers, I am sincerely sorry. We earned our way into this, now we’ll earn our way out.  And above all else, if you mess up, don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry and make it right.

Last year, about 28 million federal tax returns were filed electronically using TurboTax, compared with 7 million combined for each for the two and three tax software competitors. This is a big market! As a result, cynics view this apology as the best way for Intuit to cover their behinds. Alternatively, others see it as a humble apology.

To me, this is a model of humility and how to say sorry. It should also remind us of the need to forgive. As the adage reminds us, fool me once, shame on me…fool me three times, shame on you!” Intuit does not have a track record of this behaviour. Should it do so in the future, we have a different situation. In the meantime, I laud the efforts of Brad Smith even if it cost me a few extra bucks this year.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


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