Living in a Leaky Cauldron


Internal Communications When Everything is Public

The pandemic, the Great Resignation and the continued evolution of technology have transformed how companies communicate with their employees. Announcements about workforce reductions, remote work policies, and changes in strategy or procedure that are intended for internal eyes only, routinely appear on social media or land in the hands of reporters – often within hours or minutes of their release. When they obtain such materials, reporters are increasingly opting to post the full-text or a screenshot, instead of relying on excerpts. With virtual meetings now commonplace, several high-profile instances of video recordings of company town halls making the rounds on both social and traditional media have also put company leadership in an unwelcome and damaging spotlight. As communications professionals, we advise our clients to expect any of these scenarios.

So how do you keep control of the narrative in this “leaky cauldron” environment?  Below we offer some suggestions.

First and foremost, approach internal communications as a strategic channel through which you can reinforce your values and clarify your business goals externally.

Regardless of its nature, content, or delivery mechanism, treat every internal communication as if it will be made public and then embrace this reality. Depending on the announcement, take control and strategically make it public yourself first. In recent years, more companies have published internal communications directly to their websites and social media. This approach can help maintain control, maximize transparency and consistency, reinforce key messages and core values, and strategically garner visibility for a company’s stance on noteworthy issues. For all communications about corporate values and positions, make sure your employees get the message first before posting it online.

Recognize that the medium matters as much as the message – leverage newer digital channels and avoid internal “chatter.”

Keep in mind who your employees are and the best way to reach them, which may not be uniform. Continue to use your usual channels to amplify news and consider all the digital tools at your disposal, including recorded videos and webinars, to humanize and streamline your delivery, especially if many (or all) of your employees are remote or hybrid.

Set clear guidelines around how your company communications channels should and should not be used. Conversations about layoffs, organizational changes, compensation, and other potentially sensitive topics should not take place via electronic or video means. For more sensitive communications, prioritize verbal, intimate conversations. When appropriate, encourage managers and leaders to communicate directly with their teams.

Regardless of social and technological change, basic principles of internal communications still apply.

Share information on a “need to know” basis. Do not distribute information widely that you would not want to be made public immediately.

While it’s often necessary to share information with certain employees involved in an announcement’s implementation – for example, human resources should know about layoffs before they happen – keep the group “in the know” as small as possible. Communicate major company news to employees at the time it is publicly announced or in the minutes prior to avoid leaks before the scheduled announcement.

Align internal and external messaging.

You often will communicate the same news to both internal and external audiences. While the specific wording of these messages may vary, it’s important that the key messages are consistent and that any internal communications that make their way onto social media don’t contradict your public statements. To minimize the likelihood that someone goes off-script, designate a spokesperson to answer questions from external audiences and arm internal leaders with materials that will guide them in their discussions with employees.

Understand your audience and choose your words and tone carefully.

Your leadership team must strike a careful balance between appearing robotic or overly scripted and getting too comfortable or, even worse, over-sharing information.

Use language that is easily digestible to your employees and to external audiences should they get their hands on your communication. Explain terms they may not be familiar with and provide additional resources but avoid “talking down” and minimizing important details. Employees can often sense when something was not written by the person sending it. Work with your communications team to strike a tone that makes sense for your company and keep your style and language consistent. When delivering news that may not be well received, demonstrate compassion through both your language and your actions. Employees are more likely to leak information they perceive as communicated poorly.

Technology continues to advance at breakneck speed and employees across sectors are embracing it to make their voices heard. Companies that also embrace it and use it to their advantage will be better able to communicate with all their stakeholders in the way that they choose to reach them.

Contact the author:

Emma Prenn-Vasilakis, Vice President
H/Advisors Abernathy (New York)

+1 212 371 5999


Lisa Pham, Vice President
H/Advisors Abernathy (New York)

+1 212 371 5999