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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

The Public Face of a Small to Medium Sized Company

how do you get control of internal and external rumor mills?

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

If you work for a company of small to moderate size, you have just been appointed a spokesperson for your organization.

Oh, I know, it probably isn't in your job description. There's no additional pay associated with these duties. There will be no announcement in the local newspaper.

But you've got the job, all the same, and the pressure on you to do it well has increased as the economy has tanked.

Pay attention to what the media, or your friends and family, are saying about other companies and you'll quickly see what I mean. It isn't just the CEO or, if they have one, the public relations department that gets quoted. The general public, including your customer base, are not forming their impressions of how your company is doing, and whether it will survive the recession, based on official statements.

Every time the workforce goes home at the end of the day, an army of communicators starts sharing what they know about the company's fortunes, and more importantly, what they don't, with almost anyone who will listen.

And when they come back to work the next morning, they share these same opinions and conjectures with one another. They create an internal communication network that has an enormous impact on morale, on loyalty to the organization, on the effort everyone puts in.

Enlightened management is aware of the ubiquitous role of spokesperson, that anyone in the company could provide the next quote in the media, influence the next potential investor, or color the perception of that next customer. And they provide some kind of guidance -- although they may not call it "training" -- to help all of their employees play that role in ways that help the company.

If public perception of your company and employee morale and productivity suffer from internal and external rumor mills that spread inaccurate information about how you are doing, if probably means that your workforce lacks one or more of the following:

  • Information. If management doesn't regularly share credible information with employees, they have to make up their own "facts."
  • Awareness. Many employees don't realize the power of rumors and conjecture to influence a company's success, especially when people are so eager to hear news of how the recession is affecting businesses.
  • Skills. They simply have no idea about what's appropriate to share, about how to respond when the question of the company's fortunes comes up in either an interview or a conversation.

Now, making sure that employees know what is going on, that they have the right information, is a management function. The most important elements are regularity and honesty. The leadership of the business doesn't have to share everything, but employees know when what they hear is either too vague to matter, or too unrealistic to be believed. And if they don't hear any official news for a long time, you can be sure the rumor mill will fill in the void.

But building awareness and skills comes right out of the training playbook. In a large company, there may be a training department that needs to take the lead on this. In smaller organizations, there may be only one official "training" person, or none, and training is really one more part of many, many jobs, especially among supervisory staff.

What matters most is not how this gets done, but that everyone agrees that it needs explicit attention! Simply giving employees information without helping them understand how to use it -- especially in the current environment -- can be a wasted effort. Employees need the "what" and the "how" together.

A very small layer of coaching or training, laid on top of straightforward information shared with everyone in the company, can provide a surprisingly thick layer of protection. Why not apply a very small increment in effort to reap a large benefit in terms of taking employee morale, and your public image, out of the hands of the rumor mill?

© 2009 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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