Timing is Crucial to Effective Internal Communications

timing is crucial in employee communication

From the standpoint of an internal communications professional, I had one major take-away from Richard Sherman’s much talked about post game rant – timing is crucial. Unless you were sequestered in a lead-lined vault buried deep below the earth’s crust for the past week, you’ve heard countess opinions on the appropriateness of what Richard Sherman said. But I haven’t heard too much discussion about when he choose to say it, which to me is just as important.

Sometimes, it’s not what you say as much as it is when you say it. I wasn’t taken aback by what Richard Sherman said, or even how he said it, nearly as much as I was by when he said it. If he’d made his statements later in the locker room, it wouldn’t have been nearly as jarring. But at the game’s climatic conclusion most of us were expecting something bigger picture from the game-saving hero. Airing what had been previously a private feud at precisely the moment that celebration was expected is what I believe caused most of the controversy. His statement was too small for such a big moment. Imagine if he had delivered his statement in a calm, less-abrasive tone – it would still have seemed petty. Maybe more so.

Like Richard Sherman, CEOs sometimes get caught up in the moment and are tempted to fire out a blast employee e-mail. And some ill-conceived CEO memos find their way outside the organization and become public embarrassments. The most well-known example of this is the infamous “tick-tock” e-mail sent in 2001 by Cerner Corp. CEO Neal Patterson who lambasted his employees for not working hard enough and threatened to fire them. The e-mail was leaked to outside the company and soon went viral. Cerner’s stock price and the CEO’s reputation plummeted. Neal Patterson could have been much more effective if he’d shared his concerns at a face-to-face meeting with his staff.

For Richard Sherman and Neal Patterson, there was a better time and place to deliver their messages more effectively. Employee communication professionals must do a situation analysis and assess the climate before sending out important messages. They must ask:

  • How does the situation fit with the organization’s strategies?
  • Which points will resonate positively with various stakeholders?
  • What about the situation poses particular difficulties? Where are the potential conflicts? What points will be tough to sell to employees?
  • Are their labor unions or other interest groups that have a point of view on the situation? What are those points of view and how have they been expressed?
  • Does this situation affect any external audiences? Does it impact customers, vendors or contractors?
  • Are there areas where various stakeholders have conflicting needs or points of view?
  • Is the situation confidential or highly sensitive?
  • What else is going on in the organization that might affect employee perceptions about the communication?
  • What tone and what communication channel will be the most effective?

It’s not enough to get the right message and the right communication channel. It must be at the right time.

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