A detailed PowerPoint presentation about restructuring and
potential layoffs, including notes and talking points, was accidentally emailed
to all of the employees at a global media company. The senior HR executive who
sent the presentation was looking for comments from top management involved in
the discussions. The presentation elicited plenty of comments especially after
it was reported in Adweek, Advertising Age and The Wall Street Journal.
It’s easy to send email to the wrong people but it’s not the
only way to leak sensitive information about job cuts. I worked with a sales
and marketing executive who recommended a restructuring. He wrote an
explanatory memo to support the elimination of the highest ranking position in
the department. After finishing the document he turned off his computer and
went home. The next day a department admin started her day with the usual
routine of turning on the printer. Guess what document popped out? I’ll spare
you all the details of the fallout. The short version is; the layoff in
question never occurred, the executive’s tenure was not very long.
At a company in major financial distress we announced that
layoffs were being planned. My office
was broken into one night. Nothing was taken but it became clear that someone
read my handwritten notes. The locks were changed and I carried any comments
about layoffs in my briefcase.
I have been involved in layoffs and restructuring as both an
in-house HR executive and an external consultant. The situation has never been
easy. Protecting information does not make it easier but it does lessen
complications and minimize backlash. Content of communications, means of
dissemination and timing are all critical and must be very carefully planned. To
deliver news about layoffs I flew to
with the President of a company on the same day that the VP of HR flew to
Houston and Charlotte. This was the best way to ensure that affected managers
got the right information from responsible sources.
Extra care must be taken when creating and sharing any content
about restructuring. Save it all on media you carry around. Use web
conferencing to share a presentation if in-person meetings are impossible. Avoid
using email for any of this information.
What other ideas or experiences do you have to share? You
could help someone avoid the next great restructuring mishap.