At the end of February, the Internet met its latest superstar: Brad’s wife. If you haven’t heard about Brad’s wife Nanette, the story is simple. Nanette was fired from a Cracker Barrel where she worked as a server for 11 years. Neither her nor her husband understood why. So he turned to Facebook to ask the restaurant chain why she was fired. And an Internet sensation was born.
For weeks on end, people have been taking to the cause. Communicating on her behalf, they demanded answers and started an online petition. And when the company didn’t respond, they made up their own (negative) conclusions. A month later, the company still has yet to address the issue. So the internet is filling the void with continual posts to their Facebook page and Twitter asking for #justiceforbradswife.
A month? Crisis communications 101 tells us that ignorance can be the best policy sometimes. But in a world where communication knows no bounds anymore, why stay silent? It can’t be good for business, PR, employee engagement or talent acquisition. Even competitors including Chick-Fil-A and Bubba Gump have signs advertising to hire Brad’s wife.
The whole story is genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s also such a lost opportunity. And organizations are losing the opportunity for honest communication and impact every single day. So why stay silent? It’s simple. We’re scared.
Human resources has played “scaredy cat” for as long as I’ve been in the profession (20 years) and long before that. From EEO claims to unions to lawsuits, we’re afraid to talk about—and talk to—our employees with any sense of openness, honesty and realism.
And sometimes, it makes sense. Lawyers exist for a reason. Pending lawsuits, grievances and claims mean HR professionals can’t talk. Understandable. But that doesn’t mean we have to be so shy we stay silent all the time.
In fact, we’ve been so scared about how we communicate, that other companies are doing it for us. From Glassdoor and Indeed Reviews to FairyGodBoss and Purple Squirrel, adept HR technology and communication companies are taking advantage of organizations’ fear.
And that fear has turned into reactionary behavior—the worst kind of communication. Organizations are consistently asking “how do I respond to negative employment reviews?” They’ve become wedded to their ratings, spending inordinate amounts of money to gain a few tenths of a percentage point.
What if they just started talking openly instead?
Take Domino’s Pizza. Owning up in one of business’ most honest approaches – from product to marketing to employee engagement – has propelled their stock to increase over 6000% since 2009. By embracing honesty and open communication, they completely turned the business around.
If you think Google, Facebook, Netflix or Zappos have been consistently lauded for their HR practices because they’re quiet, think again. It’s PR. It’s advocacy. It’s a proactive communications strategy to anyone and everyone who will listen and pass it on—from reporters to employees to candidates.
We can’t shy away from embracing openness and honesty in HR. Even if we can’t comment on why someone was fired, we can still speak up, speak out, and be proactive to address the situation.
We can start by communicating to our employees. By moving away from stodgy, scripted town halls and monthly CEO-letters that go through 12 rounds of re-writes from the communications team. By embracing direct, honest and regular communication that has executives talking directly to smaller groups of employees and listening, rather than reacting canned, pre-prepared answers.
We can own and address the negative when it happens—starting with our own employees. Instead of reacting to bad online reviews, we can open real communications channels and actually follow-up with regular progress reports to employees on what we’re doing and how it’s working (or not working).
We can also merge employer brand and communications. If we start embracing every touchpoint with candidates and employees as a chance to honestly communicate and influence them, we’ll start seeing the impact of our words and actions. Ads influence, sway and wow customers every day. When was the last time you had that reaction to something coming from employee communications?
As for Cracker Barrel? A month after Brad’s original Facebook post, it seems like they’re content to stay mum. Maybe it is an EEO issue or there is a lawsuit involved. Or maybe they’re preoccupied with filling the over 5,000 jobs they have open or the latest round of disappointing earnings. But if they don’t talk honestly, we’ll never know.