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6 Tips for Handling Company News--Good and Bad

Sic transit gloria mundi.

This adage â€" "worldly glory is fleeting" â€" may be ringing in the ears of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. Last December he was Fortune magazine's cover boy as CEO of 2010. Now he â€" or more specifically his company â€" is incurring the wrath of subscribers after announcing a 60% percent hike in subscription fees. (For the record, rates for DVD only or video streaming only will remain the same, but if you want both you must pay $15.99, 60% over the $9.99 fee for both.)

Savvy leaders I know never get too high or too low about news facing their company. After all, a sense of equanimity is essential to effective leadership. The organizations they lead need them to keep things on an even keel.

Here are some suggestions for doing so.

When good news occurs:

  1. Celebrate! When things go well, organizations do well to note them. Do not assume that everyone knows what has been achieved. Publicize it.
  2. Recognize that everyone played a role. Organizations achieve because people pull together to make good things happen. Recognize the role that individuals as well as teams play in the success is critical.
  3. Remind people there is more work to be done. Nothing lasts forever. It is important to refocus on the work at hand so that you can continue to excel. Organizations that stand the test of time are always looking and thinking ahead and mobilizing people to continue the work.

And when bad news occurs?

  1. Address the problem. Get to the root cause. Acknowledge a mistake or the trouble that result. Avoiding responsibility for it makes the company seem like it has something to hide.
  2. Find solution. Avoid the tendency to assign blame. That is easy. It is much better to devote energy to finding solutions.
  3. Time heals. After a setback some people may feel like giving up. Leaders need to work overtime to dispel such negative thoughts. Remind people of the good work they have done and are capable of doing again.

I remember a public relations executive in Detroit once telling me that each automaker had a turn in the barrel and an equal spin in the sunshine. If you waited long enough, the executive said, you would see each get his due as well as just desserts.

Given that we witnessed the collapse of two, General Motors and Chrysler, and an earlier near meltdown at Ford in the mid-2000s as well as subsequent recovery of all three, the PR guy probably had it about right.

Every organization will have its ups and downs. It falls to leaders to celebrate the wins as well as solve problems, but in the meantime, keep the organizational focus on an even keel. Sic transit gloria mundi.


image courtesy of flickr user, BenLucier