Lehman's Communications Gaffe

September 19th, 2008

All right, by now everyone knows the story of the demise of Lehman Brothers. Once one of the most storied firms on Wall Street; mismanagement and perhaps a false sense of invincibility led to its recent bankruptcy. But what makes matters even worse is how the firm communicated the news to its employees – or didn’t communicate it.

Dejected employees reported that they read the news in the Wall Street Journal and other online sources and never received any kind of formal written or verbal communication. Sometimes, companies do this unhappy business well; sometimes they do it poorly, But to not do it at all? Talk about adding insult to injury.

Clearly the firm’s management had some other things on its mind but they could have taken a few moments to dictate or delegate a communication piece outlining the impending doom to the people it affected most. They violated the first rule of crisis communication – show them that you care – and ultimately they left a lot of people who had made them a lot of money feeling very insignificant.

The moral here from a communication standpoint is that people can accept when mistakes are made but they’re a lot more difficult to swallow when you don’t demonstrate basic human courtesy.  So whether it’s an accounting error, a product malfunction, a layoff or a lapse in security; apologize for your mistake and communicate clearly about what you’re going to do about it. Even if there isn’t much you can do about it, as was the case with Lehman, at least you can show them that you care. Many times people will forgive incompetence. What they won’t forgive is how executives handled their people.

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Media & Journalism
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