Last weekend, I had the privilege of guest lecturing on the new realities of crisis communications at Farleigh Dickinson University as part of their Executive Lecture series. And while I was invited there to share my experiences and talk about crisis communications in our wired, networked world, I was the one who walked away learning a lot. The students were smart, insightful and particularly intuitive about the use of social media in a crisis…something so many clients are wrestling with today. We debated some of the textbook crisis case studies, and whether those responses would have been as effective today. All in all, a pretty engaging and rewarding way to spend a Saturday morning.
But for me, the greatest perk was staying for the lecture that followed mine….Driving Alignment Through Employee Engagement, which was the topic by Johnson & Johnson’s VP of Corporate Communications, Craig Rothenberg. Unless this is your first time reading this blog, you know that employee engagement is a particular passion of mine…and Craig gave me some real food for thought. He was candid about the recalls at J&J, and the challenges recent events have created from an employee engagement standpoint, particularly as it relates to the famous J&J credo as an authentic culture driver. He talked about the downsides of decades of success, and a workforce with long tenure, when you hit bumps in the road. And he talked about engagement as a means to an end, not the end itself.
My takeaways from his advice, not just to students, but to all of us:
• Employees are talking about your company, with or without you. If you don’t participate in THEIR CONVERSATIONS, they will wonder why, and make judgments about that.
• Engaging employees isn’t about what you say; it is about what employees hear. Messaging cascades are what you say….but did employees hear your intended message?
• When you talk to employees, consider it a public statement, referencing the J&J communication to bonus eligible employees that the Company would not pay full bonuses this year. If you don’t want to read about a policy or program you are implementing at your Company in the NYT or WSJ, then you aren’t comfortable with that program…re-think it.
• Employees don’t respond to messaging. They respond to listening.
• If employees see your reputation as declining, that is a canary in the coal mine…it foreshadows reputation damage to come. Pay attention to it.