Can You Keep A Secret?

Bad news travels fast. You don’t have to be a professional communicator to know that. The old adage is especially true inside large corporations in today’s age of instant, personal communications. But even with the odds stacked against them, some companies can keep secrets, or at least bad news under wraps until the appropriate time.

This week, one of Tanner Friedman’s corporate clients had some bad news to announce – the closing and downsizing of facilities that will lead to job cuts in multiple countries around the world. I was dispatched to one of those sites, out of town, to support media relations because, for better or for worse, we have gained much experience in recent years handling similar situations. Here’s some of what we have learned:

-A commitment to announcing bad news as quickly as possible once decisions are made greatly reduces the risk of leaks. There’s nothing like weeks and months of internal speculation and a slow trickle of information to get rumors started outside the company.

-Companies that demonstrate respect for their employees fare better in these situations. A real companywide commitment to letting employees know first reduces the chance they’ll see the news in the media before finding out at work.

-Leadership matters. The best leaders in the company should get the news first, then be entrusted and supported to deliver the news credibly to their teams. When employees hear it straight from someone they trust – with the ability to ask questions – they won’t go to the media their frustration. They’ll be emotional, of course, if it means the possible or probable loss of a job. But that emotion is more likely, in these situations, to be contained to the office and home.

Bad news is simply part of being in business. It happens. But it is communicated best and leaked least when companies respect their internal audiences while preparing for outside reaction.