For the state - and the state or common good is what matters in China - the objective is to reform the miscreant through humiliation. As Andrew Browne reports in The Wall Street Journal, the practice has been brought back by China's president, Xi Jinping. The leader wants to reduce corruption.
The tactic dates back to the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. It was his favorite tool to punish his supposed enemies. Then, in the great leap forward, Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, leveraged it as the first step in "re-education." Those he classified as the bad guys and gals had to renounce any sign of their elitism.
The power of jiantao can't be denied. Even the most bombastic human beings are wired to be fragile when it comes to how the self is held together. That was obvious last night when, in the Iowa caucus, Donald Trump came in second. His self seemed shaken.
Some misguided public relations coaches might have advised him to do a mini jiantao to renounce his former self-absorption. That could rebrand him as an Everyman public servant, ready to toil tirelessly for the public good.
The reality is that the public confession made by American executives and even the ordinary apologies made by ordinary people in daily life frequently are counterproductive. The ritual of humiliation can hurt the brand, both of the company and the professional. And, like, who really cares.
Constituencies want to see a change in the company's practices or different behavior on the part of the human being. When the property management company for my residential complex seemed to err in its billing practices, I howled. I didn't want an apology. I wanted a correction made. That was done. The organization then gave me a gift card for what I perceived as an inconvenience. Did it apologize? I don't remember. That's because that's not what I wanted. And that's not what I want when I contact a call center such as at Bank of America or Discover Card.
The debate about whether to apologize is nothing new. Way back in 2006, The Harvard Business Review pointed out that this kind of initiative during crisis is high risk. More recently, research on the stock shows that investors don't respond well to the apology, even if they perceive the company and/or the leadership was in the wrong.
In our little professional lives, it's a smarter move to not leap into apology. Instead, we can reframe that negative conversation by requesting input what changes are recommended. Then we assess those suggestions and agree or not agree. No apology needed. That step has been bypassed by simple course correction. That positions us to maintain a position of strength in continuing with the project.