The employee memo read around the world and how to avoid a PR nightmare

In the world of unforgettable employee memos we have all read our fair share. Internal memos have found their place online as inspiration for the world to see. The memos come in a variety of themes, everything from a uplifting note from the CEO to even comical writings from leaders wanting to encourage their organization when changes occur.

For a company memo to make its way onto a local news cast or even a post on Social Media, even though internal and confidential, the leak can prove to be a publicity goldmine to show off the great culture of the company.

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post, 9/11/17

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post, 9/11/17

Unfortunately, not all memos are gold and some even turn into a public relations managers worst nightmare. Case in hand is a Pizza Hut franchise in Southern Florida that recently issued a memo to employees with guidelines of what is acceptable attendance for a fast approaching Hurricane Irma. A storm that would impact the entire state and drove over 5 million Floridians to evacuate.

The memo started off with a supportive tone to advise the staff their safety was the number one priority.

The support stopped there.

The memo went on to give strict guidelines for when they would be allowed to evacuate, rules that went against instructions from the states Governor. In addition, to a required return to work time frame for once the Category 5 storm had passed. (If your house is in a shambles you have three days to get back to work).

Its no surprise that once Pizza Hut corporate headquarters found out about the memo a statement was quickly issued condemning it.

Here is a portion of the response:  “We absolutely do not have a policy that dictates when team members can leave or return from a disaster, and the manager who posted this letter did not follow company guidelines. We can also confirm that the local franchise operator has addressed this situation with the manager involved.”

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post, 9/11/17

Photo courtesy of The Washington Post, 9/11/17

You could read this response by Pizza Hut and think that the situation is handled and the right action was taken to address the issue with the franchise owner.

But, that isn't the best thing to do.

The best action was to avoid this from happening to begin with.

But, how can you avoid mistakes that your employees will make? Inevitably something will go wrong and as the leader you will have to step in to fix it. When it comes to fixing a problem it's important to first know what category does the problem fall into.

Once you identify the severity of the problem the next steps will set your company up for success with the next issue occurs or left unprepared you might have to issue more than a written apology to smooth over the situation.

Here are three problem categories and the keys of how to avoid your company name in the news, for all the wrong reasons.

Problem # 1: DEFCON 1 - All Hands on Deck!

Not to be dramatic but let's start with the most severe situation first. I like to refer to this as DEFCON 1. The military defines this as 'maximum readiness; all forces ready for combat'.  For a business this would be the time when your emergency operations procedures kick into play. The emergency operations procedures within a business is called upon when the situation is either a:

  • Impact to the companies reputation is forthcoming or has occurred
  • A audit is demanded from a government agency, including local state, local or federal
  • A breach in company and/or customer data
  • A employee strike
  • The sudden resignation or firing of a member of the C-Suite team
  • Natural disasters

During this time it is important to remember that a few preparations should have already been prepared and are ready to be put into place. Some examples of those are:

  1. A clear guide to employees of how the day to day operations will continue in order to service your clients
  2. Communication issued to employees notifying them of what to do & how to answer questions from customers
  3. A external communication sent to customers notifying them of what is being done to handle the situation and who to contact
  4. A Human Resources Manager and Public Relations expert on call during this time

The key to surviving a DEFCON 1 is to keep a level head and give direction to your team, in other words remain cool in the chaos. The best time to think clearly on how to handle this situation is before the situation occurs. Creating a Emergency Operations Procedure before the storm hits is the best approach to take but sadly not realized until you are in the middle of a chaotic situation.

If you have not created this plan or even unsure on how to begin its completely understandable why a Emergency Operation Procedure seems daunting but don't worry.

The best game plan for your company can be put into place during the emergency, if the company is working together as a team.

The culture of a company is the lifeline to the business. If the culture is filled with negativity and a huge lack of trust that is the same a virus in the body. If trust is an issue within your organization before you make any plans the number one priority is to get to the heart of the problem of a missing element of trust and fix it.

Problem # 2: Doing Just Enough & Your Customers Notice It

This problem occurs far too frequently. This is not a result of bad technology, lack of training materials or inspiration within the company. Doing just enough is a direct result of the individual making an active choice to take the easiest path to get the job done. What they do not realize is taking the easiest path is in reality the lazy path. This will lead to gaps within their work creating repeat customer calls, if not complaints, giving the customer a experience of your company not delivering what you've promised them.

In short, this employees personal character flaw will cost your company in time, money and customers. The solve for this is rather simple but most companies do not address it head on. Why, because to address the issue is to speak truth to the situation and the truth doesn't always sound polite, regardless of the spin you put on it. The best wordsmith in the world only has so many ways to saying to someone 'your not meeting the expectation of your job'.

When faced with this problem here are three things to remember:

  1. The culture of your company should be clear from the moment someone applies for the job. Waiting until they are hired to then tell them about what you stand for, the vision and the mission is already too late. Be upfront in the interview process, including the marketing on your website to let customers and potential employees alike know exactly what you stand for.
  2. Address it when you first see it. When you notice that a employee is only doing just enough you can use the first occurrence as a way to identify is this person really slacking or do they need additional training. Remember you are the leader and others will not always feel confident to ask for help, even if they have already finished the on the job training.
  3. Give your employees on the job training. Each employee should be clear on the company motto, how their role fits into the company, what are the expectations that you, as the leader, have of them and lastly how to use the tools needed for their job.

If once you have went through each step above and the performance of the employee still has not changed then the answer is obvious. This might seem hard but the sooner you end the working relationship with the employee the better the team will be. By knowing that there is an issue & allowing it to go on for far too long can lead to questions from other team members as to why you are not addressing it. That will instantly kill the moral of your office and once the moral is low it is challenging to raise it again.

Problem # 3: Outdated or a Lack of Operating Procedures

As companies grow it is vital that the systems and structures that once supported your team along with the clients are updated to match the growth as well. The foundation of all successful companies are based on a few things:

  1. A skilled sales team
  2. Clear communication plan and support to customers
  3. Internal training for employees and recognition program
  4. Executive coaching and development for the leadership team

All four areas require support in order for the company to run like a well oiled machine. If one area is not getting the attention it needs (an example is development for the leadership team, this is a must for any company wanting to grow) the rest of the teams will feel the impact.

Every month while reviewing the performance of the company there are a few metrics that should also be considered. Those are:

  • Customer complaints
  • Cancelled contracts
  • Refunds and employee turnover

One of these four areas will tell a clear picture if the operations are in need of a upgrade or even a overhaul.

After reading this article share with us which of the three problems your company needs more support in. Contact us at or visit

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