The Rolls Royce gaffe: lessons in executive comms

You expect everyone to have an opinion when a big political decision like the European referendum is impending and, a lot of the time, you are likely to hear all about them. It might be over email or water cooler chat, but you’d probably be surprised to get a letter… from your CEO.

It emerged on March 2nd that Rolls-Royce employees, along with employees of all six of BMW’s British companies, received a letter from the boss warning that EU exit could raise costs and jeopardise trade. As you can imagine, this has caused quite a stir. Whether or not you agree with the content itself, though, the question is, what is the impact of sending out such a message through a closed communication channel?

What the Rolls Royce gaffe can teach us about executive communications

Anxiety rising

Receiving a letter stating that the employment base of the organisation you work for could be affected is naturally going to cause concern for some and outright panic for others. People are going to have questions which, if they can’t voice them there and then, are going to make them panic even more. With no one to ask, they are likely to gossip amongst themselves, which can be detrimental to morale.

What the Rolls Royce gaffe can teach us about executive communications

Employees will have an opinion too

Along with their concerns and questions, employees will have an opinion on the matter too. Sending out a letter doesn’t give them a platform, and what does that say about how much their opinion is valued? Alongside their view, they could also share knowledge and ideas that can help to extend the reach of the message.

The result of not giving employees a voice is dwindling employee engagement. This ultimately leads to a decrease in productivity and retention issues, to name but a few.

What the Rolls Royce gaffe can teach us about executive communications

So what could they have done?

By letting employees communicate openly, it is quick and easy to see how people are feeling and respond accordingly, nipping any concerns in the bud before they become unmanageable. It’s also visible to everyone, promoting an open and transparent culture, breeding trust (and reducing panic). Encouraging bottom up communication should be the priority of any executive. When employees give their opinions, not only does it promote a positive and healthy culture, it leads to knowledge sharing and collaboration, empowering everyone to excel at their jobs.

Social collaboration tools do just that; build a collaborative culture by encouraging discussion and engagement. A great way for this particular piece of comms to be delivered would have been through a blog. CEO blogs published over companies’ intranets are a popular tool known for driving employee engagement. This instantly takes the formality out of the delivery and would’ve provided a space where employees would feel comfortable saying what’s on their mind.

Of course the comms delivery and level of discussion is even more effective if it doesn’t come as a surprise. Surveys and polls are a great way to introduce a topic – perhaps ask people if they have opinions, how they see this news impacting them, even whether they had already considered the impact on the business. Following up with the results and information relevant to the topic still allows you to achieve the message you want to deliver, but in a much softer, less damaging way.

Collaboration has many benefits in the workplace. As a business, it’s important to consider what you’re missing out on by not opening up a communication channel where your employees can speak freely, support each other and deliver the tools you need to plan and manage change effectively.