Time to Act
Charlie Goodrich 


Employee communication is important at all times. During periods of crisis, however, it's particularly critical.

With that in mind, today's newsletter offers 8 suggestions for communicating with employees during stressful times.
Your comments are always welcome. Just click "reply" to send them to me.
Charlie Goodrich 

Founder and Principal

Goodrich & Associates
September 2013 Vol. 2 No. 9
In this issue...
Crisis Communications - 8 Tips for Communicating with Employees in Tough Times
Heard on the Street: Lehman Brothers - the end of a bubble building since the end of World War II
About Us
Goodrich & Associates
[email protected]
Crisis Communications - 8 Tips for Communicating with Employees in Tough Times
It was 25 years ago this very month, that I was part of a management team which began an 18-month strike to decertify the Teamsters. Not just any Teamsters local either, it was that of Bill McCarthy, the big kahuna at the top of Teamster's International at the time.

It was a stressful period, to say the least. We replaced 70% of the hourly work force; cross-overs had 24/7 police protection for their homes; our truck drivers were forced to play chicken on the road with the Teamsters; and employees were harassed every day at the picket line (supervised by the not so friendly Peabody, MA police).

For the first three months or so, there was often a new bullet hole in the office window, there to greet employees when they came to work. Everyone was on edge.

In the end, we won the decertification vote, thanks to a majority of union-eligible employees voting to remove the union. Needless to say, employee communications during this contentious year-and-a-half period were critical.

And so with that in mind, today I share eight things I learned about how to manage employee communication during a crisis:
  1. Listen, listen, and listen.

    Take the time to hear employee concerns, both personal and business-related. Then address them to the extent you can.

    During the strike, for example, I made a point of coming into the office in the evenings, so that I'd be accessible to the night shift. That gave everyone a chance to share their fears - both for the future of the company, as well as for their physical safety.

    Listening to employees is both useful (you learn things you'd otherwise never know) and a demonstration of your genuine concern for their well being.
  1. Explain what needs to be done.

    Focus is critical in a crisis, so make sure to outline the path ahead as much as possible. Whatever the near future holds, it will be different from what's happened before; in these sorts of situations, employees need short, frequent bursts of direction.
  1. Educate about the uncertainty.

    Remind them constantly that things will change in unpredictable and rapid ways (as they always do in a crisis). The reminders serve to keep employees calm and to prevent change from undermining confidence in you.

    So get them ready for the uncertainty. The more you explain this, the more prepared they'll be and the more your credibility will be enhanced, rather than diminished when things change unexpectedly.
  1. Share everything that is public (or likely to be found out).

    If it's out there, in any form, employees will hear about it. If it's in a court filing, they'll hear about it. If it's in a communication to vendors or customers, they'll hear about it. So take steps to make sure they hear it from you, first.

    A few years ago, I took an assignment with a company whose leadership had a policy of telling nothing to anyone and for good reasons. The place was like a submarine with a screen door for a hatch. The adversarial owner had been ousted and any time there was a private conversation at the company's office, the leadership heard from the owner's attorney, often within minutes.

    But, much of the "secret" information was a matter of public record on the Court's electronic docketing system. After I began sharing information with employees that was in fact public information, not only did I gain credibility, the very adversarial owner was no longer feeding the employee's unsatiated hunger for information.  
  1. Keep secrets secret.

    Some things are confidential and should not be disclosed until absolutely necessary, or not at all.

    During the Teamster's strike, for example, we didn't tell employees about the helicopter surveillance until they saw them in the sky. Nor did we tip them off about the team of unarmed, black-clothed "Rambos" who were going to drive through the picket line in a "War Wagon" (a bus with iron grates for windows and solid rubber tires), circle our delivery trucks, lock arms, and walk them out through the picket line one by one. (Our new owners squashed this plan at the last minute, so most employees and the Union never even learned of it.)

    Keeping secrets is easier if you tell employees everything they need to know or reasonably might hear. When employees trust you to be forthright and candid, they stop digging for information on their own.
  1. Leverage the communicators.

    Every organization has mid-level people whom others look to for information and guidance. Not only do these folks broadcast the things you tell them, they often aggregate employee concerns for those too timid to speak up. Identify these people and take extra time to listen to them.

    In a bankruptcy case on which I worked, I knew that one particular manager in the company's scrap metal yard had a great deal of influence with employees, and so I spent many hours over the course of the engagement, talking with him at the end of the day. His questions were not just his, but those of the other yard managers as well. When we spoke in the evening, he routinely called his fellow managers on his drive home.
  1. Don't speculate.

    It's alright to describe a range of potential outcomes, however once employees figure out that you are simply speculating, you will lose their trust. Remember that employee speculation leads to rumors. Employees are much less likely to speculate if you don't and if they aren't kept in the dark.
  1. Don't throw management or ownership under the bus.

    Even if they deserve it, stoking the fires of discontent makes life harder for everyone. If you need to vent, do so privately with other professionals on the case.
Employee communication is important at all times. During periods of crisis, however, it's particularly critical.

If you remember to listen constantly, communicate frequently, share public truths as you learn them and keep secret what needs to be kept secret, you'll be successful in navigating your next high-stress situation!

Heard on the Street
This month marks the five year anniversary of Lehman's bankruptcy filing. Not surprisingly, there has been lots of press lately regarding the financial crisis.

The short article by David A. Levy, Chairman of The Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, titled "The Contained Depression: 2008 - (2018?) What It Is, Why It Happened, How It will Play Out, and What Will Follow," reminds us that the bubble that burst was building since the end of World War II.

As the title suggests, Levy doesn't expect the "contained depression" to end until 2018 at the earliest.

Read it here (sign up and log-in required).

About Us
Goodrich & Associates is a management consulting firm. We specialize in helping our business clients solve urgent financial problems. Our Founder and Principal, Charlie Goodrich, holds an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the University of Virginia, and has over 30 years experience in this area.

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