Top down communications

yahooIn February 2013, Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer made a major change in the corporate culture at the online search engine company. She issued a memo via Chief Development Officer Jackie Reses that will require the company’s 14,000-plus employees to come to work at Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA. In other words, no more telecommuting, a popular work mode in the tech world. As you might imagine, the memo went over like an earthquake at Giants Stadium.

In a similar vein, IBM Chairwoman and CEO Virginia Rometty delivered bad news to Big Blue’s more than 400,000 worldwide employees in an internal company video, in which she blasted many of the company’s divisions for being slow and not meeting expectations. This came after a report that the company’s profits and revenue had fallen.

Ever wonder what the effect is of these types of high-level communications? Consider the differences in the messaging. While both were considered “bad news”, the message (in its entirety) that Jackie delivered to Yahoo! employees was upbeat, positive and engaging. On the other hand, Virginia’s message was critical, disparaging and negative.

Critics have come down on both sides on the way each CEO handled her announcement. Many have said there’s no “one size fits all” way to deliver these kinds of announcements or messages. But I think it’s important to note a few basic realities:

5266973081_4b72929eeb_oFirst, no matter how you deliver bad news, almost no one is going to be happy. While true, there are some guidelines for having these difficult conversations. Many communications experts suggest preparing the audience first by acknowledging the nature of the message to be communicated, stating the problem and the proposed solutions, identifying the next steps, and thanking the employees for supporting the new mandates and continuing to work together as a team.

Second, a large portion of the unhappy will not only be unhappy with the message, but how it was delivered. That’s why it’s important to contemplate not only the message but the medium. Take into consideration the corporate culture, how the company is organized, what options are available and include a mechanism for collecting feedback.

In the end, remember it is still just one person talking to another person, even if there are 400,000 of those persons on one end of the screen or memo. And that’s the key takeaway: Give people credit for being able to understand, digest and act appropriately.

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