Now that corporate crisis season is over for most companies, we're witnessing the onset of a new era: change management, or the changes that take place post-crisis. Is it possible that the most crisis-struck companies are the ones still neglecting basic PR practices? Apparently, they did not learn their lesson, for following the public opinion of BP and HP clearly shows that PR is still lacking.
Last week, HP shares plummeted roughly 3% with the announcement of their new CEO. The last time this kind of drop hit the company was when HP revealed the internal investigation of its CEO Mike Hurd and his relationship with a marketing consultant allegedly involved in business misconduct. Replacing the wildly successful executive, HP made a decision to hire SAP's former CEO, Leo Apotheker from Germany. What the company paid less attention to while fishing for a big name to fill big shoes, is what the move will signal to the public. And, boy, did it make an impact! A 3% drop in shares is substantial.
What communicated message did the public perceive that drove this fall?
First, the ambiguous selection of a software guy to take the helm of a hardware giant; Being an athlete doesn't imply you'll be good in every sport.
Second, what the public did pick up on was the new leader's reputation for putting the company first before its human resources. Practically speaking, he is known to make those necessary "hard decisions," or layoffs, fairly easily. This ignited enormous internal tension.
In the BP case, a company striving to leave its horrific summer behind, one of the first significant decisions taken by new CEO Bob Dudley is to create a "safety' division. It was a nice thought, but reckless choice of who should run it. Mark Bly will now run the much-focused safety unit, after leading the team that investigated the summer's oil spill in the Mexico gulf. His questionable investigation that pointed out only one of eight malfunctions that BP believes it may now stand accountable for. So, in sum, there was an internal appointment of a candidate that represents a highly scrutinized company externally.
Management PR, in particular, takes unanticipated implications into account when communicating any sort of change. Both the BP and HP management reshuffling may be valid and justified, but both companies are still under the public's magnifying lens for past mishaps.
There are several crucial PR practices to remember:
1. Balance: A company is responsible to communicate both to its external public as well as to its internal "stakeholders." The employees are the first to notice changes from within, just like they're the first to respond to it or share dismay. Communicate to your internal public in a way that makes them feel their success and that the company's general direction is in mind. This should stand in balance with the external communications, so no employee needs to learn of a company's new path by reading a daily newspaper.
2. Reputation: When change is made take into account that a new reputation emerges. First, the company's ongoing reputation of its brand may shift. Second, the reputation of the person taking the new role will influence perceptions. Third, the reputation of his former job and whatever accomplishments he or she brought to light. The point is that there will be light shed on all these components. If there is something the public should know, then this is a good time to share it. Stick to the truth and communicate clearly while funneling all three reputations into your company's single strong message of how you see the future.
3. Positivity: A general strong message that I convey to my employees, clients, and colleagues, is the importance of "change management' communicators remaining extra positive. Remember: "change-management' often comes after a crisis. People were hurt and uncertainty rises. Communicating in a positive way is valuable. Conveying strong confidence towards the decision the company made, towards the future the new management will bring, and towards the goals you have set will portray the full picture to the public without a need to fill gaps with guesses and speculations.