Unless you’ve been living in an ashram, you’ve noticed that corporate scandal is no longer limited to the financial services industry. Between Penn State, the recent bribery scandal at Wal-Mart, and the phone hacking scandal at News Corporation, it seems like the inmates have taken over the asylum. Since as a manager, you’re likely the one who has to lead your teams through all this muck, what do you do?
Many firms and organizations (including not for profits) have PR departments who love to crank out “talking points” they distribute to every manager. The easiest, laziest thing to do would be to just read the talking points to your team and call it a day. Is it any wonder that in a recent UK survey, only 36% of workers trust their leadership team? How can you deliver the right message and build trust?
1. Gather the real news. Believe it or not, people aren’t just reading the company intranet. Give your folks some credit. Media is bombarding them every day so when your company makes front-page news it’s hard to ignore. Pull together the news highlights of the top 3-5 news sources and have an open conversation about what they got right and what’s missing. Starting with the reality of what’s happening starts to develop the trust you will need to keep your team engaged.
2. Ask for feedback. Pushing down corporate BS and telling your team to go off and deliver the message create more harm than good. Ask your folks what they like about the talking points and what should be modified. Work together to create a more realistic approach to communicating the message. Anytime you have involvement, you increase buy-in, trust and engagement.
3. Be honest about the mistakes made. Making excuses and blaming others is never a good idea. Employees and customers want to know what really happened. Keep the emotion out of it and stick to the facts. Here’s what we did, here’s what we’re doing to correct it, and reiterate that you hope they stick with you through this tough time. Building trust comes from being forthright and accepting responsibility. Even if your “talking points” cloud the reality of what happened, have some personal courage and tell the truth.
How these companies handle the aftermath of the scandal will determine the engagement level of their employees and the loyalty of their customers. Over time, they might even come out smelling like a rose.