Thursday, December 28

Knowing When To Post

Jason Goldberg is an Internet pioneer of sorts, not only for developing Jobster (one of the first employee recruitment search engines), but also for starting one of the first truly transparent corporate blogs three years ago. It has never been as polished as some corporate blogs, but Goldberg seems to prefer it that way and it seemed to work, er, until now.

The main reason Jobster has suddenly resurfaced on everyone's radar is because the company, the biggest new Internet company in Seattle, recently instituted a hiring freeze, which venture blog writer John Cook says is a sign that the company may have grown too big too fast. Shortly after, rumors began to surface that the 145-person company would announce significant layoffs.

Although a minor communication crisis was already brewing, Goldberg made it big with a post that asked people to "put down your pencils .... calm it down, relax a bit, and have a nice holiday. We've got no news to give ya before the new year."

From an internal communication perspective, posting this was paramount to the captain of the Titanic asking passengers to refrain from dropping lifeboats in the water until the ship's quartet finished his favorite song. To make matters worse, Goldberg added a post to justify Jobster's future decision to focus on profits in 2007. And again, he asked people to wait for answers.

"why would a young company like jobster care about profits? hmmm... vs. many of the dot com companies not too long ago who didn't? many answers to provide here ... will have to wait for now. but in the meantime I will point to a few big things ..." and goes on to list four of them.

No, there is nothing wrong with streamlining a company to become more profitable, but it is usually a good idea to let your employees know before the rest of the world. Not to mention, asking them to "have nice holidays" before facing major layoffs is almost too painful to post about.

Will there really be layoffs? According to an e-mail, again published by Cook, Goldberg writes: "What I can say is that the changes we will make are 100 percent voluntary and (management) proposed (versus) board dictated."

All this news and continuing updates from Cook has created a second wave of criticism about Goldberg and Jobster. It's unfortunate because this could have been handled better. One of the first golden rules of any crisis communication situation is to deal with the most urgent and critical matters as early as possible. In doing so, the spokesperson or CEO must be direct, decisive, and empathetic to anyone who could be negatively affected by the bad news.

Instead, Goldberg, apparently panicked and without the aid of a seasoned communication professional, wrote from his Blackberry: "I made a personal pledge to be a very public and open CEO, knowing that it could come back to bite me sometimes. I promised to speak my mind and provoke and prod the industry a bit, again knowing that it could open me up to greater criticism and sometimes backfire."

He went on to encourage his readers to read all about the "beating" he received from comments made by anonymous posters on Cook's blog. "Rather than run from it, I encourage folks to go read it."

Um, Mr. Goldberg, please, please stop throwing kerosene on the deck of your sinking ship and you just might save it yet. You see, there is a difference between being a very public and open CEO and one who is empathetic to his employees, investors, and fans.

Lesson for today: Don't tease with bad news, lead with it. It's not fun, but at least it's manageable.


Rich on 12/28/06, 2:58 PM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Speculation aside, we will not have any official news on this front until the new year. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to please try to stay as focused as possible and to help your friends and colleagues at Jobster to do the same." - Jason Goldberg's employee communication memo published at Exceler8ion

danabos on 12/28/06, 7:41 PM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich on 12/29/06, 8:20 AM said...

Thank you for "almost" posting last night, Dana. Incidentally, I know who you are, given only two people read it before it was removed. It's all right.

It seems to me you have it wrong though. I have nothing against your company and sincerely wish you all the very best in 2007. I hope Jason Goldberg's prediction that "six months from now, a lot of folks will look back and wonder what the hub bub was all about" is correct. Given the short attention span of the media, let alone blogsphere, he might be right, or not.

Personally, I enjoyed Jeff Tokarz's comment on Jobster's blog that addresses "pontificating about rumor," and that the "final chapter has not yet been written," with some exception. (The exception: companies cannot make blogging a part of their corporate communication plan on select sunny days.)

What Tokarz's comment did do, however, is to clarify my post. I do not know whether Jobster will have good or bad news to share when it finally shares it. But what I do know is strategic communication and I write about these topics, good and bad, in the hope that other companies do not make the same mistakes.

You see, it seems to me that Jobster created a living case study in communication. They didn't have to, but they did — enough so that the Seattle Times even picked up on all the blog buzz as the story (or non-story) moves into the mainstream media. My take on it is that it did not have to be that way.

Goldberg could have just kept everything under wraps until the new year. But for whatever reason, he did not. Once the news was out, he could have assured his team that there would be no layoffs at Jobster as part of the company's restructuring. But for whatever reason, probably because there will be layoffs, he did not.

Given that anyone who has read what Goldberg has written (and not talking heads as Tokraz calls them) it is a safe bet Goldberg is talking about layoffs. And given the timing these layoffs will occur, it was erroneous, at best, unsympathetic at worst, to throw it out there and expect people not to worry over the holidays.

Therein lies a second lesson: Some things are better communicated "off blogs" and that includes sensitive internal communication. To that end, the only worthwhile blog post should have been made after the fact, perhaps talking about generous severance packages, post employee placement, or something like that.

Unfortunately, Jobster, not anyone else, is solely responsible for what has become a runaway rumor because it is the one that started it. Further, you cannot claim to be an open CEO and then withhold news that only saw the light of day because you could not wait to blog about it.

Even at this point, there is still time to salvage some brand value before attacking people who helped make the company interesting to begin with. Here is to hoping they get it right before the new year.


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