Six months ago, one of my best ‘Mummy’ friends reached a landmark crises in parental duties.
“How do I tell my daughter that her beloved guinea pig is dead,”? came the angst-fuelled plea as five of us caught up for lunch.
Though the opinions were varied (and some marginally less ‘gentle’ than others), ultimately my good friend decided to do what she does best in a state of duty-denial, and left it for her husband to break the news.
Sadly, that evening, ahead of the opportunity for appointed adult to frame the delivery, older brother made the discovery and decided to tell his five-year-old sibling: “the pig is dead and Mummy says it’s definitely because you fed it chocolate on Saturday”.
Cue six weeks of tears, bad dreams, bed-wetting and child trauma…all because it was a little too difficult to face the prospect of having to deliver prompt but uncomfortable bad news.
Bad news delivery is something which has the potential for deployment within every corporate communication system. In particular, it’s a feature which can affect those closest to home the most.
Internal communication all too often falls down in the list of the priorities, but it’s an absolute MUST no matter what the size or scale of business.
Today, we hear the news that HSBC is planning to cut almost 50,000 staff as part of a global reshuffle. The announcement missed the overnight papers but broke in good time for live TV news broadcasting – and, inevitably, with plenty of room for social media discussion ahead of the company opening its doors to staff this morning.
If a company like HSBC wasn’t utilising internal communication channels appropriately, then the modern existence of citizen journalism and general debate by social media would leave the potential for thousands of concerned staff to hear about their job vulnerability via a zillion other sources before hearing it from their official employer route.
And don’t think that such big-scale corporates don’t make that mistake.
A friend of mine worked for another financial house until two years ago. She happened to be sat in an airport, flip-flops on, new wedding band on her finger and with a ticket for a two week honeymoon in Barbados, when she spotted on twitter that her company was making redundancies at her office.
She called the head of HR, who had been ordered not to say anything for a further 24 hours. The communication structure had completely ignored the prospect of modern online newscasting and infiltration potential. It left her with a fretful two weeks abroad – only to return to a letter telling her she was at risk of redundancy.
So what is the answer to ensure sound internal communications? Whether you potentially have good or bad news to distribute in the future, how do you make sure your system for communicating is as sound as it could be?
Find varied channels to communicate:
Don’t rely on the old fashioned noticeboard and hope all your staff gravitate toward it whenever you have an announcement. Consider an internal social network (ESN) because your staff are already used to the likes of facebook and twitter in their own lives. Try video – it’s now considered a great preference when it comes to people receiving and engaging in content.
Bear in mind also that different employees have different levels of access to a PC screen or smart device, depending on their role within the business.
Be regular but relevant
Don’t start content delivery to your staff you don’t intend to maintain. Choose a frequency you can stick to but which is appropriate (neither annoying in being info-overload or too little to be pointless).
Make sure there’s a purpose to your communication delivery and you’re always providing a ‘call to action’ to engage response from your staff. The purpose should equally be about creating two-way communication and appropriate feedback – not just thinking of internal communication as you-to-them!
Know who’s responsible
From the moment you introduce an internal communications structure, have it clear in your mind who will input into any delivery mechanism.
Avoid any opportunity for key staff to side-step responsibilities in internal communication delivery.
Ensure you have ‘buy-in’ from your senior management, from HR (who care about employee engagement), and from bottom-up to ensure they understand why you’re doing it.
Have a code-red protocol for exceptional circumstances
Consider what might be a potential crisis or exceptional scenario. Have a clear plan in place for who does what, when and how the communication delivery will take shape – both on and offline. Build in ways to measure the success of your approach.
Deliver ‘Guinea Pig News’ swiftly and sensitively
No-one wants to have to deliver ‘guinea pig news’, but the reality is, sometimes it will be required.
In such cases, be sure to communicate to your internal audience in a timely and appropriate way, taking into account their concerns. Ensure your door reads ‘open’ at all times!