Steering Toyota Away from Crisis
"The only way we find out anything about the crisis is through the media. Does Mr. Toyoda have the ability to lead? That's on every employee's mind."
This is a quote from a high-ranking Toyota chief engineer in Japan that appeared in The Wall Street Journal. And it the nightmare of every leader – and every communicator.
Unfortunately for Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, the crisis seems to take on new dimensions every day.
Chances are, the company’s focus is so intense on customers, Wall Street and the media that employee communication is nudged to the backburner. But if the Toyota engineers quote is any indication, there’s much to be done to shore up confidence in the workforce.
If you ever find yourself in a business crisis, here’s a three-point plan to keep employees plugged in and on your side:
- Share what you know as soon as you can. Employees will appreciate receiving information – any information – about the situation. Tell them what you can and let them know when they can expect updates. Don’t let them hear about it from their neighbors or the newspaper.
- Keep the communication flowing. In a scenario such as Toyota’s, employees will have questions and uneasiness. Let them ask questions in team huddles, town hall meetings or via email. If you have answers you can share, share them. If you can’t, explain why and commit to following up.
- Stick to your commitments. Uncertainty in the workplace can take its toll on productivity – and ignite the rumor mill. Be sure to meet your commitments during a crisis. Employees scrutinize every phrase and detail and if you miss a deadline to respond to a question without an explanation, you might lose all the goodwill you’ve earned.
We’ll keep watching the Toyota crisis unfold and hope that employee communication becomes a bigger focus for the company. The company will need an engaged and supportive workforce to power its eventual rebound.