After a negative email was sent to all 180,000 employees by a manager in his department, Kaiser Permanentes Chief Technology Officer resigned recently.
To make matters worse, the negative communication became front-page news throughout the country.
Other instances of employees complaining about management or company policies have also reached the press in reach months.
They also appear to be on the upswing.
At best, these episodes reflect badly on companys morale or discipline. At worse they can severely affect the corporations sales and profits.
Experts suggest that companies review and expand their current feedback channels and encourage more open communications. At the same time, employees need to know there are penalties for communicating vital company information to outside venues.
These suggestions are being made as the realization has hit many firms that they do not have written policies concerning employee communications that land outside the company and an equal number have few provisions for keeping emails and other missives company confidential.
In the current environment of rapid information dissemination, it is important to have company policies clearly outlined to all employees. At the same time, channels to allow dissident views to management policies are also important.
Employees need to know that there are channels to express their views, particularly if immediate managers are stifling what they consider are real concerns.
Company officials admit that Kaiser Permanente failed to articulate its channel for dissent and other companies researched by this newsletter also reported failures in their internal communication programs.
As one senior HR official said at a recent Conference Board meeting, we were caught flat-footed by the Kaiser Permanente episode when we realized we had no grounds to dismiss an employee who did the same thing in our company.
Among the suggestions made by experts are:
- Inform all employees of company rules on communicating, particularly negative comments.
- Articulate ground rules for sending communications to all employees.
- Establish that doing so will result in dismissal.
- Provide a private channel to ask for a hearing on a key issue that promises no reprisal.
- Inform managers of the need for open debate on issues with clear indications as to when such debate ends.
- Detail the need for keeping company communications private and within the firm.
- Offer regularly scheduled meetings with senior executives so that employees can communicate directly and better understand and appreciate corporate goals.
Clearly, in the case of Kaiser Permanente, there was, in the words memorialized in Cool Hand Luke, a failure to communicate in which the company, the senior executive and the manager, all paid a price.