What we can all learn from Qantas

There’s no doubt Qantas is having a shocker when it comes to reputation. It’s not likely to get easier any time soon as job losses start to bite, and political wrangling continues.

CEO Alan Joyce has felt the intense heat of the media spotlight and borne the brunt of public criticism after last week’s announcement of $2 billion in cost-cutting, including the axing of 5000 jobs.

The “decide and tell” model Qantas used to advise Australia and the world of its drastic economic measures harked back to the olden days (I’m talking about the pre-Facebook age).

It used to be that the man at the top (yes, it usually was a bloke) was the only option when it came to choosing a spokesperson to deliver major news – which usually related to a decision made behind closed doors and announced to the public with little warning.

Now - thanks to social media and the many other avenues that allow us to see deeply into a business - employees at all levels have a significant role to play as spokespeople in their own right.  Savvy companies and organisations are recognising that fact.

Worldwide research bears this out: the last few years’ results from the Edelman Trust Barometer survey, which canvasses opinions from 25 countries about trust and credibility, show a fall in the perceived credibility of the CEO, while the credibility of regular workers in on the rise.

In 2011, around 50% of survey respondents said that if they heard information about a company, the CEO would have a high level of credibility as a source, while 34% gave a high credibility rating to “regular employees”. Three years on, those figures have flipped around. According to the 2014 Barometer, 39% of respondents rated the CEO as highly credible, and 53% gave that description to regular employees.

Given Qantas’s current circumstances, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the Big Kahuna fronting the cameras and announcing the bad news – particularly because that news directly affected the airline’s workforce. But what can we all take away from this?

When your business or organisation has something important to say, don’t put all your eggs in the CEO basket. If possible, consider sharing the love and involving some “regular employees” in the talking. 

If you must have a person in a suit with a fancy title singing the main song, find other ways to let your employees strike a chord in the public arena. It’s a great strategy when you have good news. It can also be effective in a negative situation, particularly when you need to assure people everything’s OK and it’s business as usual.

It almost goes without saying that staff involvement needs to be voluntary, and their messages must be genuine, not ‘spun’ or otherwise exaggerated. Here are three ideas:

  1. Record short interviews on your smart phone with workers from different parts of the business, then share on social media and your website;
  2. Include authentic quotes from staff members in media releases, newsletters and other forms of communication;
  3. Allow some of your staff to post directly on your corporate social media platforms, rather than having all your posts going through an official channel like your PR department.

 Some organisations will find it tough to loosen the reins, afraid they’ll lose control of the message. That’s understandable if you’re still thinking in an olden-days paradigm. These days, the game has changed.

Your regular workers now have high credibility out there, and many of them will be keen to help build or protect your business’s reputation. After all, it’s their reputation too.

Neryl EastComment