German automotive giant Daimler AG apologized on Monday for an incident in which a company executive got into a parking-lot dispute with a local resident.

As reported by The New York Times:

"Daimler Greater China said it had removed a manager after a "regrettable matter." The emailed statement from the company, a unit of Daimler, which makes Mercedes-Benz cars and other prestigious vehicles, did not identify the manager or say exactly what he had done.

But the Chinese news media and internet users have been much blunter. They accused Rainer Gärtner, the president and chief executive of Daimler Trucks and Buses (China), of insulting the Chinese people on Sunday during a squabble with a driver over a parking spot on the outskirts of Beijing."

Gärtner allegedly hurled a derogatory phrase at the local, using it to describe "all you Chinese." Reports also claim Gärtner used pepper spray once a crowd began to gather, injuring at least one man.

The Lesson

Of course, without being present for the actual incident, there's no way to know exactly what went down. Could Gärtner have benefited from the pause, by considering what consequences his actions would have and if this argument was really worth it? It would certainly seem so.

But there's an even larger issue here--and it has to do with how Daimler chose to address the situation.

In an official statement, Daimler said the following:

"The nature of the dispute and in particular the manner in which it was conducted, irrespective of any comments alleged to have been made, is adjudged to be not only of concern to the public but viewed by us as detrimental to the standing of our company, unbecoming of a manager of our brand and prejudicial to our good name."

Daimler hit the nail on the head.

This may have been a private dispute. But Daimler didn't waste time making excuses or absolving themselves of responsibility. The company realized that when an employee makes a publicly disastrous decision, we don't remember the person.

We remember who they represent.

In fact, the incident has exploded on social media in China, becoming one of the top 10 discussed topics on popular microblog Weibo (China's version of Twitter). Commenters insisted Daimler apologize and even said they would avoid buying Daimler cars.

An emotional decision on the part of consumers? Certainly. Daimler did well to read the situation, make a public apology and quickly remove Gärtner from his position.

[My forthcoming book, EQ, Applied, is a practical approach that illustrates just how EQ works--and doesn't work--in the real world.]

It will be interesting to see how the auto giant moves forward in China, and if they can keep this lesson in mind.

As Netflix described it so brilliantly in its widely-acclaimed culture deck:

"The real company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go."

In other words, culture isn't a set of values you put up in the lobby or in the office. It's every decision you make. It's the example you set.

So, company leaders, don't forget: Every day is a chance to further shape your culture.

How will you use today?

Published on: Nov 23, 2016