Is it possible for an organization to effectively deliver bad, controversial or unexpected news to employees without internal bias seeping in?
That is a question that every organization should ask itself before delivering the news to its employees or other stakeholders. This issue came to light for me recently when I got a call from an organization that I had never worked with asking for help crafting a message.
The news they were going to deliver was not devastating, but they knew the environment in which they were delivering it was unpredictable and the audience impacted tended to be cynical.
The communications team at the organization knew all the facts, knew all the history, knew how this message fit into long range plans, and knew what was going to be happening that might impact this news in the future.
It is because they “knew” everything that they brought me in. Wisely, they also knew that once you think you have all the bases covered, that is when a communicator can get lazy and miss an important nuance or potential reaction or misinterpretation.
I went to their offices and they told me everything they could think of about the news to be delivered, what they thought reaction would be and why, and about the environment at the organization. I was also given several documents to read, and all past communications related to the subjects at hand. With that information, I wrote the first draft of the communications. My draft could not have any prior baggage or preconceived notions built in, because I had none. My draft would take the exact path they wanted, or thought they wanted.
The communications team reaction to my draft, based on what they said they wanted to say – “wow, that is just too much, it seems to hide the main message, it beats around the bush, it seems too apologetic.” I other words, by reading an outsider’s draft of the message, they were able to be much more critical. They were able to better see the gaps and opportunities in their own thinking.
Two drafts and two conversations later, we arrived at a final product that much improved upon where they started. The outsider’s perspective uncovered the flaws in their message.
The feedback received from those who ultimately received the “bad” news was “although people don’t like the news, they thought the message was ‘well-constructed.’” A well-constructed message, even with bad news, builds respect and trust.
The lesson for anyone and any company is this: Don’t be afraid to ask for an outsider’s perspective before delivering a message. You might find out that your initial message was already strong. But, you also just might discover something much better, and avoid a disaster before it happens.