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Rebuilding Trust Through Communication

There is a point when an organization must stop focusing on crises and begin to focus again on serving customers, making money, and creating value for shareholders.

September 18, 2003
Related Topics: Ethics, HR & Business Administration
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At companies where trust has been broken because of, say, high-profileexecutive wrongdoing, HR has to step up to the plate and help the leaders regaintheir credibility. Emmett Seaborn, a principal with Towers Perrin in Stamford,Connecticut, says this is done through an extensive communication effort thatinvolves the following 12 steps:

    1. Get your leaders in front of people. Let your people see leaders visiblyhandling the issue with candor, credibility, and concern.

    2. Help your leaders avoid the spin. People will quickly see through anyeffort to shade the facts.

    3. Tell all the news you have—even bad news. Save the time-release strategyfor another time. Tell everything you know so that employees have little room tojump to their own conclusions.

    4. Connect with all stakeholders. Communicate with all your constituencies,especially employees.

    5. Reach beyond the media. Don’t just send a letter to employees, or letnews reports do the talking for the company. Send flesh-and-blood humans to talkwith employees about their concerns.

    6. Offer the opportunity for dialogue. The translation and interpretation ofmessages happens through dialogue and demonstration, not by reading memos.

    7. Balance high tech with high touch. Computers are great for fastcommunication, but they don’t replace in-person conversation and discussion.

    8. Listen to your people. Ask how they are responding to the bad news andwhat questions they might have. The process doesn’t have to be formal. Justmaking the effort sends a positive message.

    9. Communicate and involve more, not less. Don’t disappear. Avoid thenatural reflex to clamp down when people most need to hear from you. When itfeels like you’ve told your story over and over, you’ll know you’re ontarget.

  10. Remind people of the fundamentals. Repeat, repeat, repeat why you are inbusiness, how the business works, what the business needs to achieve, and howemployees can contribute.

  11. Help people see their roles. Communicate the business goals and theemployee’s role in achieving them. Be clear about the rewards that will comefrom that effort.

  12. Ask people to move on. Limit the permission to whine. Once you havecommunicated openly and thoroughly, ask people to move on. There is a point whenan organization must stop focusing on crises and begin to focus again on servingcustomers, making money, and creating value for shareholders.

Workforce, October 2002, p. 30 -- Subscribe Now!

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