You Gotta Have Heart, Especially When Cutting Jobs

Heart and soul. That’s what committed, passionate employees put into their jobs. But what happens when a company needs to let employees go? How do they show that heart and soul? Not be doing what HuffPost did.

The international media company cut positions, but in a ham-fisted manner.

Notifying employees via a meeting invite to attend a virtual gathering and then telling them that those who did not receive an email by a certain time would be assured that they had a job is no way to appear concerned or caring. And it sure isn’t right. It’s wrong at every level.

You can go your own way…

The days of decades of corporate loyalty are dead. Long dead. Employees, nor employers are faithful to one another. Everybody can go their separate ways at any time. Some states offer more protection for employees, some less. South Carolina is a “right to work” state where employees may be let go for no cause, without notice. But the ability to separate employees from your company does not call for heartlessness. It calls for compassion. Being let go is a source of grief. Panic. Fear. If you’re in the working world, you surely have experienced the loss of a job. It’s a difficult experience. One which provokes many feelings: Of loss, of grief, of fear. To be told you no longer have a paycheck suddenly feels like the (financial) floor has been pulled out from underneath you. Because let’s face it, we work for money, not fun. Yeah, we get told that we can have fun at work and that our work should be fun, but the paycheck is the vital quid pro quo that most of us expect. As adults, we do know we ought to save money for a rainy day, like when our job is cut, but many work paycheck to paycheck.
via GIPHY During the SARS-CoV-19 pandemic, companies have had to cut jobs. People understand this. But cutting jobs with a personal touch is imperative.

Show compassion

via GIPHY Companies who care show how they care with carefully thought out methods of notification, outplacement services, and support for departing employees gain. Simply saying to someone, “You’ll know you have a job if you don’t get an email,” ignores compassion. It displays a distinct lack of caring. A brand is the sum of every interaction someone has with your company or product or organization. You can have the best products, the best sales staff, the best corporate HQ and leave policies, but if you eliminate jobs in a heartless manner, showing no compassion, it will impact your brand reputation. Brand reputation is an essential part of the value of your company. But showing your company’s humanity is not about money, it’s about being decent. Doing the right thing. For the right reasons.

Be human. Respect the people. Be caring.

If you find your company in the difficult situation of having to cut jobs, stop and think of how the departing employees feel. Build compassion into the process of notification and separation. To do less than this will create a crisis for your firm. Guaranteed. As with HuffPost, you’ll find your company at the center of a social media crisis. You’ll receive vastly more negative attention than you anticipate. Most likely, the savings you may have gained by cutting positions will be lost from your brand equity because you did not plan in advance. And the company will have a more damaged profile among job-seekers. Because they will know that their heart and soul is not respected at your company.

Leaders must speak with one voice, have coordinated, unified message

Avoid confusion with a primary spokesperson

Have you ever heard that there are two sides to every story? Or multiple ways to answer a single question? No doubt you have. There are multiple perspectives for every situation. In life this can be good. When it comes to your business’s reputation, multiple perspectives and answers can be problematic if they do not mesh. The goal when interacting with members of the media is to avoid contradictory information delivered by multiple individuals. If several sources give differing information to a media representative and these are used in a news story or online piece, how does the public know which information is correct? This inconsistency will lead to issues with credibility and can be damaging especially if sources offer contradictory thoughts or facts about a situation. The solution to minimize information confusion is to have a single person responsible for delivering information to members of the media.

Who communicates a message or speaks for your business?

When it comes to your business, it is always preferable to have a single person act as your company’s designated spokesperson and official media contact for your company. Your dedicated spokesperson must be media savvy, understanding how to interact with journalists accurately and communicate transparently. For a small business, the designated spokesperson might be the CEO or the Director of Marketing, or may even be an external public relations firm representative. When you have a critical situation in which you’re communicating technical information you may also want to have a subject matter expert speak in conjunction with your designated spokesperson. Subject matter experts can often convey a highly technical information in a way that bolsters the message and helps people understand complicated topics. For larger firms there will be a communications team whose job it is to speak with members of the media. There may even be specific individuals who are aligned with the various publics or audiences of the corporation: customers, stockholders, employees. This team is coordinated, so they all deliver the cohesive information. Unified messaging whether in a crisis situation or in regular PR and marketing communications is mandatory. When you have several people who communicate with the media without coordination, the result can be detrimental publicity which damages your reputation.

Multiple points of view help shape credible messages

When working out what to say and how to respond, every viewpoint of the potential audiences must be comprehended. These viewpoints shape the manner, tone and content of a response. Evaluate and utilize insights from all your constituencies in order that the resulting message does not open up a minefield of other issues. You have seen this happen when leaders deliver tone-deaf messages which cause slights or insult various members of the public. As an example there is the apology type I call “sorry, not sorry”. A classic example is United Airlines’ 2017 contrasting initial public response and employee directed response to the involuntary removal of a passenger from their plane. [Read the story on PR News Online.]

Annual communications audits and training

Annually your communications team or corporate spokesperson needs to work with the company leaders to identify key messages. They also must identify potential vulnerabilities and outline for the team how those vulnerabilities — if they become occurrences — might impact your business. After having identified potential threats, whether it’s a customer complaint which goes viral via social media, violence in the workplace or a storm which disrupts business, you can outline an initial message and points of response. Keeping these points fresh and updated allows you to respond with nimbleness to an immediate situation. The foundation of these plans will include who will speak in each given situation and who has the responsibility of communicating on behalf of the business. As noted earlier, in some situations you may be able to benefit from having subject matter experts partnered with your designated spokesperson.

How will frontline staff interact with the media?

When members of the media visit your business locations and attempt to speak with people who are not designated to speak with the voice of the company, it’s critical that frontline staff understand how to react as well the appropriate method for providing contact information for the designated spokesperson. One of the simplest ways to do this is to have the unit manager meet the media person if they are in the store or speak with them on the phone and provide the contact information or the business card for the spokesperson. It is the staff member’s responsibility to then communicate the journalist’s name, contact information and affiliation which they got during their interaction to the communications person or team. Doing so in this manner means that both the journalist and the spokesperson know about the contact. Most PR people will go ahead and reach out to the journalist, rather than wait on the media contact to reach out. Training for frontline staff members needs to be a part of their orientation when they join the firm. Regular review of this topic with employees to keep everyone familiar with how they direct inquiries will ensure that when a media representative contacts your business, the person who greets them will know what to do, and do it well. If you follow this simple outline of how to get your message coordinated, you can avoid multiple messages which may lead to confusion, or damage to your business reputation.

What if you do not have someone who capable of serving as a spokesperson?

A public relations firm such as Charleston PR & Design can provide identification of vulnerabilities, message development, spokesperson training, and can act as a spokesperson in critical situations. We can also provide training to your frontline staff around interaction with the media. Don’t wait until it’s too late, plan ahead and be certain that your messages are coordinated and represent your business with clarity and unity and that your designated spokesperson is ready, able and can respond with authority.   Photo Copyright: microgen / 123RF Stock Photo

Crisis Prevention: Vulnerability and Risk Management

Animals comprehend their vulnerability. Vertebrates have a dorsal and ventral side. Our dorsal sides are our backs — from the Latin dorsum. Our ventral sides are our bellies. Unshielded, our bellies are one of the weakest points on a vertebrate animal. Dogs showing submission roll onto their backs, displaying their belly to the dominant dog. Armadillos must roll into a ball to protect their vulnerable underside. Every animal species understands its vulnerable side and how to protect it.

What is your vulnerability?

Every business entity has a vulnerable side too. Learning how to protect your business by assessing risks and managing vulnerabilities is a wise investment. If you do not assess risks and discover your vulnerabilities, you stand the potential to be ripped apart by unforeseen consequences.

How do you assess risk?

Assessing risk requires a systems approach and perhaps outside experts. There are professionals (such as our firm) who will help assess your risks. Experts from every area: financial, HR, IT, physical plant and electrical are all good to help assess your risk and propose safety measures to prevent loss. CPAs can assess your financial systems and identify weaknesses in your management of assets, both property assets and money. Human Relations consultants can help you by conducting background checks of potential employees. You can call on the fire department to assess your warehouse or office or storefront to protect you from fire threat. IT consultants can examine your ability to back up and secure vital information. You may be a business with sales of $50 million a year or one with sales of $50,000 a year, but each is vulnerable. Physical / premises weaknesses, human / employee weaknesses, financial / information vulnerabilities, and reputation / public relations vulnerabilities are present in every business. Finding yours, making a plan and mitigating risk is crucial in order to be a mature business. Of course, there are many businesses who never undertake risk assessment. And they never have a threat or loss. And there are just as many caught unawares whose companies disappear overnight when the unthinkable happens. Do not hide from the opportunity to plan. In the Carolinas, we live with the seasonal threat of hurricanes. Have you assessed your ability to weather a category five or lesser storm? Have you made sure you have all your IT systems backed up in the cloud? Are all your paper files stored above the one hundred year flood height? Do you have an emergency alert and notification system in place to inform your employees not to report to work in the advent of a storm? How will you notify them to return to work you are able to resume operations? Do you have business interruption insurance? We could go on and list multiple areas to examine. Accept that every component of your business is vulnerable to loss, interruption of business, damage, or absolute breakdown. Now the question becomes, “What does it take for me to get back up and running?” Involve every employee and manager in making an outline of what is essential and critical in order for them to work. Depending on your product or services, you may be able to all work remotely. If you are a manufacturer or hard-goods producer, you will need to outline how to get back into operation. This requires that you have agreements with vendors from outside our geographical area lined up to provide materials, support and services to help you get back up and running. While you may object to going to these lengths now to assess risks and plan for interruption and recovery, planning now will save you money, time and ultimately your business.