Back in the day, internal communications were a mere footnote in the year-end report of a company, with businesses not yet knowing how to approach this mean of employee interaction or not fully understanding its benefits. Cult comedies such as Office Space (1999) depicted internal communications as these mischief-creating channels, giving us lines as the now-famous, “did you get the memo?” in which Gary Cole’s character scolds an employee for ignoring an internal memo. If in films internal communication situations gone bad are a source of amusement, in real life the comedy can rapidly turn into horror, as any leaked internal communications can lead to serious problems for your company.
In an ever-changing corporate environment and a digitally-driven world, there is no mistake that can be silently repaired, not even in the case of what is considered to be internal and private communication. You could be dealing with a disgruntled employee who decides to make something public, with an external hack, or even with an innocent mistake such as accidentally sending a message to the wrong person, or posting it publicly.
Today we are going to go over some of the most terrifying communication stories you won’t believe happened in the business world, and why you should always have a great internal communications solution in place.
The Leaked Internal Message of PayPal’s President
In 2014, a message sent by the president of PayPal to all its employees ended up being leaked to the press and becoming worldwide news. In the content of the email, the employees were being chastised for refusing to download the PayPal app, forgetting their PayPal passwords, and even for not hacking into vending machines and making them accept their solution as a payment method. Written in a distancing language, the email made employees feel alienated from the company and its values, and the ending only made it worse:
“In closing, if you are one of the folks who refused to install the PayPal app or if you can’t remember your PayPal password, do yourself a favor, go find something that will connect with your heart and mind elsewhere. A life devoid of purpose, and passion in what you do every day is a waste of the precious time you have on this earth to make it better.”
If your company is already implementing an internal communications plan you will sure recognize one of the biggest mistakes made here by PayPal’s president, the use of “you” instead of “we.” Regardless of the passion you feel in expressing a vision, when conveying it to your employee via an internal message, you need to always check that the language is both inclusive and comprehensive.
The Highly Controversial Memo of an ex-Google Engineer
In a case that has shaken the corporate IT world, Google had to publicly face worrying internal issues when one of their engineers wrote an internal memo which he sent to the HR department, but also posted on an internal forum. In the memo, the now former employee argued against the diversity policies engaged by the IT company by claiming – among other things – that the absence of women employees in the IT industry is not due to discrimination, but to a lack of interest on their part. The anti-diversity views stated in the memo turned out to be shared by other employees, as more internal communication messages got leaked in the process.
Handling the aftermath of a crisis arisen from such a sensitive matter needs to be in the internal communications plan of all companies, no matter their size, sector or whether they have dealt with something similar in the past. Being prepared for anything is mandatory.
The Massive Leak of Bloomberg’s Internal Messages
In 2013, more than ten thousand internal messages sent between users of the company’s financial terminals were leaked online. The messages were accessible via a simple web search, and contained confidential client and company information such as discussions between traders at some of the world’s most important banks and their customers. The leak, albeit accidental, raised a lot of concerns about privacy information and confidentiality regarding client data. And although five years later we’ve seen a major improvement in privacy laws and corporate policies regarding confidentiality, situations like Bloomberg’s internal messages leak still arise, leaving the companies involved having to deal with the aftermath of a crisis that might even put them out of business.
The Much Debated 2016 Facebook Memo
Earlier this year, just after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media platform has outraged the public with another scandal, as an internal memo written in 2016 got leaked. In the internal document, one of their executives hinted to knowing that the platform has a lot of pitfalls when it comes to how people are using it, with lines such as this one:
“Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools. And still we connect people.”
All in all, the memo offered a the-end-justifies-the-means vision, with talks about validating the metrics in order to connect people, a vision from which their CEO distanced himself soon after the memo made the worldwide news. Having people hear how disconcerting the visions on tragedies tied to their tools and policies are, from an executive of one of the brands they love and use every day certainly qualifies as a terrifying internal communications story. Therefore, regardless of the consequences endured by Facebook, this should serve as an example of both how not to handle your internal communications, but most importantly, an example of how not to conduct yourself in the corporate world.
In the line of work of internal communications there are a lot of aspects to consider, aside from drafting and implementing a plan to communicate with your employees, or utilizing smart solutions. Beyond making sure that said plan will maximize your efforts of connecting with the people helping you grow your business, you should also make sure that in the case of a leak, your internal documents don’t reveal something not aligned with your public company policies. There are countless other terrifying communication stories you won’t believe out there, and many more taking place behind the curtains. Make sure you do everything in your power to not become the next object of public outrage.