For years, JJ&W has counseled its clients, often anxious to rush out the door of external communication with whatever news they have, that their first stop needs to be communication to any internal audiences affected by that news. It’s the priority. And it’s common courtesy. Period.
And we don’t stop with asking them to communicate with their employees – all of their employees, including the part-time flight attendants in the airlines, the cafeteria workers in the schools and the receptionists (especially the receptionists) at the desks of the Fortune 50 companies, who are likely going to be fielding the calls about the news when it gets out. Go deeper than that. In the case of the schools, think of your Board members, your parents, your alumni, your volunteers, your coaches of sports teams…even the vendors who are considered your business partners. There is an easy way to determine who should be told before the rest of the world hears the news. Think to yourself, if you were that employee, that volunteer, or that coach, wouldn’t you want to hear this from the organization you’re connected to before everyone else does?
Given that as criteria, it’s truly bizarre why Disney and ABC executives did not figure out that Kelly Ripa – the co-host of “Live” – would not deserve the courtesy of finding out that her co-host Michael Strahan was going to be leaving the show to go full-time at Good Morning America, where he is currently working part-time, in advance of everyone else. Their rationale? “She’s going to be upset no matter when she finds out.” Perhaps, but what they forgot to think about was how they would feel if they were in her shoes and how much more upset she would be about the lack of communication and common courtesy extended to her in a place she has worked for over 2 decades. So she gave them some time to think about what they had done while she took a few unplanned days off, as they scrambled for substitute co-hosts and flew their highest-level executives in to deliver a personal apology.
Kelly’s re-entry to the show today (on April 26th) was beautifully executed and appeared very genuine, and she delivered it to an audience that showed her the love and support she deserved with a standing ovation that went on until she finally shut it down to make her statement.
After acknowledging in a very honest way that she had taken some time off to process the news and really think about what she wanted to say in response (with some humorous comments about ABC likely having snipers with tranquilizer darts if she went “off message”), she talked about the fact that this situation had started “a much greater conversation about communication and consideration and most importantly, respect in the workplace.” Amen to that! She went on to talk about her longevity with the show and that it was a place that felt like family to her. And all of us could imagine what it would feel like if family kept such an important piece of information from us. It wouldn’t feel good.
She ended by acknowledging the personal apology by the parent company and the happiness she felt about the new opportunity for Michael – and he reciprocated with a heartfelt response. If there was tension there, it didn’t show, and they went diving into the entertainment portion of the show with their usual carefree back-and-forth banter. So it ended happily, at least for now. The proof will be in the pudding when her contract comes up for renewal.
The lesson for the leaders of any organization – be it of a national television show, a corporation or a school – is really as simple as the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Period. Internal communication will always be, and should be, your priority for news that impacts members of your internal family.