The CEO is unhappy. The results from the latest employee attitude survey are not good--in fact, significantly lower than the last time the survey was conducted. The data clearly indicate that employees are dissatisfied with many aspects of working for the company.

So HR and communication people race around trying to "fashion a response" and "shape messages" for the CEO to deliver to employees. These draft messages have a defensive tone and are filled with empty phrases like "human capital" and "prioritizing initiatives" and "we value our employees."

My colleague and I who work for this client keep trying to stop the madness.

"The best practice is to give employees the straight story," we say.

And we add:  "Employees know how they answered the questions. And they probably have a pretty good idea how their coworkers answered the questions. So if you try to 'spin' the results, employees will know. And you'll lose credibility."

But our advice falls on deaf ears. Meeting after meeting is held, where participants talk about how to "manage the issue." Message after message is drafted, and each is more dense and full of corporate speak than the last one. And, worst of all, a promotional agency is hired to create an "upbeat campaign" (slogans, posters) to improve employee morale.

Why is this kind of response so difficult when it comes to an internal issue, like those bad survey results? My theory is that leaders are afraid that if they tell the truth, the company's weaknesses will be exposed. But everyone in the organization already knows the way things really are. As a result, if you don't tell the straight story, employees feel like the company is treating them like children. Or, worse, like they're being lied to.

When something bad happens, the right thing to do is to take a deep breath and tell the truth. Not varnished, not spun, not packaged, not pretty.

The naked truth. The ugly truth. The whole truth. 

Published on: Jun 21, 2016