What Message Do Your Organization’s Workforce Policies Send?

“I am glad I do not feel pressured and I have a job to come back to.”

Right on ABC! That was my response when I read that.

Robin Roberts, broadcaster on ABC’s Good Morning America, made that statement the other day in talking about her cancer and her career.

This reminded of a friend of mine who took a leave of absence to deal with her elderly parents. When it was nearing the time for her to return, she tried logging in to her company’s computer system, but for some reason, it was not allowing her to get in.

The message: “We take care of our own”

When she called a friend at work, the friend told her that she should speak to her boss. That was when she found out that she had been let go. Just like that she was out with the usual drivel about downsizing, workplace adjustments, etc.

These are two different scenarios and they both sent a message. When my friend told me her story about her job loss, it was in front of lots of people and they all basically said they would never shop at that company again.

On the other hand, the value proposition of ABC went through the roof on the day that Ms. Roberts made her declaration. “We take care of our own” could easily become their employee mission statement. All the viewers, vendors, affiliates and every other entity that touches ABC will now view them in a different light.

I am always a sucker for this type of corporate dynamic because it makes an organization come alive and shows they care. It shows that an organization is “human.”

Now, I know some of you may say that because Robin Roberts was a senior and very public employee that she was a special case. However, my view is that ABC opened the gate and now it is out there for the world to see how they treat their “employees.”

Layoffs in the wake of Hurricane Sandy

Once the bar is set this high, it improves the lives of everyone.

So many times, organizations will do things that ding their reputations. There was a company that had planned layoffs but then Hurricane Sandy came through the region. This company was closed for two weeks.

The problem for them was that they had planned a big layoff. Their solution: call everyone on the phone and tell them that they were fired and papers would be sent and that there was no need for them to come back into the office — just mail in the paperwork.

But linger for a moment on that scenario and the message it sent to the remaining staff, or important outsiders such as customers, that management would handle that situation the way they did, and right before the Christmas holidays.

Every day every organization sends messages to their customers, to their employees, and to everyone else that is listening. That is why every decision should factor in the larger meaning of any message that is being sent. Sure, PR can spin the situation, but the message can be more authentic if no spin is needed.

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Anyone, anywhere can talk about your organization

Over at ABC, the treatment of Ms. Roberts did not need any PR spin because that was the way they felt, unfiltered. The other situation would definitely need spin, but I have no idea as to how that could have been spun in any positive way.

In the wired world we live in today, with so many levels of connection through the use of the Internet, it’s important that organizations always understand and be aware of the beacon of light that emanates from the corridors of every company.

Organizations should be aware that along with all the advantages that come with an online corporate presence come risks as well due to the openness of being online and an almost instant global reach. Because of that, scenarios like the ones I mentioned above took on a life on their own online.

With the way the Internet works, anyone, anywhere can talk about you, about what you do, and about the services you provide. The interactions people have with any organization, whether it is a business or community group or (more importantly) your valued employees, are some of the most critical and talked about issues you’ll have in the online community.

How will your message be perceived?

All organizations operate by making decisions both big and small. At the manager level, plans are made and teams are led based on decisions. The effectiveness and quality of those decisions always send a message.

That is why, as hard as the decision making process is, that you must remember that a valuable component that has to be added in today’s climate is the message and how it will be perceived in the larger world.

Any people-related decision should not be made without taking that component into consideration, and that includes layoffs, downsizing or any other action you and your organization take.

Yes, it is just that important.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


1 Comment on “What Message Do Your Organization’s Workforce Policies Send?

  1. I see examples of this type of poor thinking over and over again. Maybe that company HAD to lay people off. It did NOT have to do it in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, or right before Christmas. Did no one have the capability to shift plans around and wait till the crisis passed?

    ABC looks good about how it treated Robin Roberts. The upper management, though, needs to send the memo to the entire staff. If “take care of our own” only includes those the public sees, ABC’s not going to look good for long.

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