When internal communications go external

In yet another case of an internal memo being made public, a major law firm last weekend found its stance on short skirts and high heels analysed in some detail in the newspapers. While their policy might be considered appropriate for a professional practice, the communication of it was not; the media coverage was unhelpful and damaging to the company’s image and employer brand.

In an age where private becomes public at the click of a ‘forward’ button, how can companies balance open communication with damage limitation? By having a robust internal communication policy you can:

1. Minimise the risk of your internal communications being leaked:

  • Use an appropriate channel – sensitive communication is always better handled face to face.
  • Target your audience – avoid general messages if you can specifically address those concerned.
  • Adopt the correct tone and language – patronising, indignant or emotive messages are more likely to be leaked by aggrieved employees.
  • Ensure that employees have a voice – if they can make their opinions heard within the business employees are less likely to feel they need to go outside to make their point.

2. Minimise the damage that can be done if they are leaked:

  • Expect the worst – assume that anything published internally could be released externally and write accordingly.
  • Make sure that managers understand communication policy:
    • what should be communicated and the best channel to do so
    • responsibilities for checking and approval of large scale communication
    • language – the importance of appropriate tone and vocabulary
    • where to get advice and help

The fact is the majority of internal communication remains just that. Where leaked items are reported this is normally where the company is already the subject of media interest or where the content can be sensationalised when taken out of context.

A well written, empathetic message could actually show your business in a very positive light if published externally – however by its very nature this would be un-newsworthy!

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