Talk to the people who matter

Georgie Russell, Associate Director at Bladonmore, looks at why saying nothing is a hard strategy to pull off.

As I type, I don’t know where my teenage daughter is. I know which city she is in and the rough plan for her visit – but that’s it. And I’m nervous. I’m picturing her getting robbed, losing her phone or getting bundled into the back of a van.

Most likely she’s just in Boots, buying more skincare products for her perfect skin that requires no skincare products. But until she breaks her silence and sends me a message, I’ll continue to overreact and panic, unnecessarily. That’s why communications blackouts are rarely a good idea.

Keep a dialogue going
My heart sank recently when a former Wilko executive told a parliamentary hearing that she had wanted to reach out to employees when the business went bust last summer, but advice from directors and administrators at the time had been not to do so. Instead, she directed her comments about feeling ‘devasted’, ‘sad’ and ‘sorry’ to a bunch of MPs on the Business and Trade Committee, three months after the event.

Granted, there may have been robust legal arguments for holding back sensitive information in this case. But in my view, saying nothing at all should never be a requisite of non-disclosure. You still have options. Keep a dialogue going. Without one, there is too much room for misunderstanding.

Keep people in the loop
Even just communicating why you can’t give an update at a point in time can be enough to carry people with you. Other options include sharing a timeline, reviewing what’s happened to date, or simply checking-in empathetically: ‘I know this is a difficult time, but please bear with me.’ The mistake is to assume that if you haven’t got anything new to share then there’s no reason to reach out.

Regular contact between management and staff matters. Employees rarely expect to be privy to every twist and turn of the business; but they do want to feel that they are being kept in the loop.

Fill the void
Another common error is to assume everybody knows what you know. And consequently, that there is no need to bring people up to speed. Knowledge is power. If employees feel sidelined and left in the dark, they will disengage – or hit the staff WhatsApp groups and whip up a storm. Saying nothing can be a legitimate PR strategy but it’s a hard one to pull off.

If you don’t control the narrative, the likelihood is that someone else will. Something I will remind my errant daughter of when she finally puts me out of my misery and sends me a text…

If you’re looking for help with strengthening employee engagement within your organisation, get in touch.


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Georgie Russell

Associate Director

Georgie delivers executive media and presentation coaching.

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