Select the right words. Say them well.

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Certainly it is important to talk about bad news in the workplace in a sensitive and thoughtful manner so everyone understands all sides of what you are talking about. But that’s not what I am focusing on here. I am looking at something even more fundamental. How do you explain the economic downturn knowing your employees will turn around and begin talking about it with your customers? How do you shape that message knowing it is going right to the people who bring in the money that fuels your business?

First, here are some examples of what can happen when you don’t do this well:

A friend and colleague went to one of her favorite restaurants recently. The person she was having lunch with asked the waiter, “Do you still have that whole wheat crust pizza?” “No,” said the server. “We’re cutting back on food costs because of the economy so we don’t have that anymore. And we cut back on staff as well, that’s why you had to wait so long to be served today.”

My barber went into a Circuit City in the last few weeks and asked why it was so hot in the store. She was told by the employee, “Oh, our temperature is controlled by corporate.” In other words she was lead to believe someone in Virginia was making decisions and setting temperatures for a store in Arizona! (If true, we may have some evidence as to why the company is in so much trouble these days!)

I am willing to bet a month’s salary the waiter and the clerk just came out of staff meetings over the previous few days and they were simply repeating, almost word-for-word, what they heard from their bosses. Is that what you want?

Knowing this kind of thing can occur, every manager needs to carefully think about what they say and how they say it, especially during tough times. At the heart of the issue you need to ask yourself, “What can I say to my employees to provide appropriate context?”

Here’s a thought. Tell employees the bad news, but then talk about how things look from the customer’s perspective. Encourage your employees to be a beacon of light in these otherwise negative times. It’s critical we maintain our relationships with these customers -– make clear the connection between the customer and ALL of the jobs we have -– from the CEO to the newest hire.

We don’t need to load the customer up with the issues we’re dealing with in the back room. They already have their own issues and they don’t need to take on ours. They are walking in, calling or otherwise interacting with us because they want to — and a little extra time to say “thanks” needs to be our first order of business.

Next Month: Providing a credible good news message in a down economy.

***Happy Holidays to all from your friends at ClearComm!***