A Tale of Two Announcements: Communicating Big News at Large Organizations
How to communicate big news to employees at large organizations
Two regional banks’ futures are on the line, and all stakeholders await the decisions of the top brass: will a merger-of-equals result in layoffs? At large firms today, most communication happens through email, and that’s how a lot of news is delivered (hopefully employees never have to learn company news via Twitter, the New York Times, or Buzzfeed). While email can be both immensely useful and sometimes exasperating, it’s also considered a very impersonal medium, especially for delivering big and consequential news to employees.
Earlier this year, the CEOs of BB&T and SunTrust Banks held a 21st century version of the “fireside chat to announce their merger.” Immediately after this announcement, the two appeared on the CNBC television program “Squawk on the Street” to speak directly to stakeholders, outlining the rationale for the merger and assuring client-facing employees that their jobs were safe. In the short but authentically delivered segment, the two presented an understandable motivation: their combined assets will allow the newly united company to make serious, and needed, investments in digital platforms. Furthermore, they addressed jobs — employees’ biggest concerns — head-on and honestly. They minimized uncertainty for client-facing employees but didn’t make any promises they can’t keep to others.
Compare this delivery to the widely covered WeWork debacle. After the company received rescue funding from SoftBank, $1.7 billion of which went to departing founder Adam Neumann, speculation about layoffs ran wild. There were reports of 4,000 layoffs, then 5,000 . All of this was ahead of any official communication from newly appointed executive chairman Marcelo Claure. When Claure finally did communicate with employees, it was via — you guessed it — an emailed memo. What’s more, Claure’s message was vague and lacked empathy. He wrote, “Yes, there will be lay-offs – I don’t know how many – and yes, we have to right-size the business to achieve positive free cash flow and profitability.” Any news about layoffs is difficult to process, but an exasperated tone via email doesn’t soften the blow.
The human element is often hard to find at large corporations — but if you have a big announcement to make to stakeholders, you should especially take care to be as genuine as possible. It’s certainly much easier for someone to deliver bad news from behind their keyboard, and intended audiences understand that. It’s also easy for the email’s tone and intentions to be misconstrued — but a recognizable face speaking sincerely, whether they are delivering good news or bad, is much more palatable and human. It’s nearly impossible for the CEO of a large corporation to deliver an important announcement in person to each stakeholder, but the next best thing might be a personal address via video.
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