Just a few minutes ago, while sorting out some email quota issues within our system, I came upon some “old” emails written during our 2009 recession-business crisis. During that crisis, a person who had previously only had indirect relationships with our business came to the fore as a crisis management consultant. He reported to me the allegations that someone in our business had been snooping on other sales representatives’ emails to steal leads and names.
Somewhat shocked, I took measures to quietly change passwords and in the process discovered near smoking gun evidence that one of our representatives, involved in the accusations against the other representative, had been fooling around with email passwords and access. The person against who the allegations were aimed had absolutely nothing to do with the issue — in fact this individual even today doesn’t have direct (or indirect) access to the company’s servers and email account systems.
While I fortunately handled this situation (and in fact, our overall recession crisis response) reasonably effectively, the problems we experienced then touched closely to one of the major challenges that can truly damage virtually any business: When internal trust disappears, the business has a crisis greater than any external economic circumstances.
I’ve observed several times how brand success correlates with trust; the stronger your clients’ and potential clients’ trust of your business, the more valuable your band. With a strong brand, you can command higher prices and don’t have to struggle too hard to find new and repeat business. Repeat business (and referrals) occurs when you earn your clients’ trust.
So, when trust breaks down internally, you need to fix these matters quickly, or risk reducing your external trust and marketing effectiveness. These issues are especially vital if trust difficulties infect your executive, customer service, sales or marketing functions.
If you see any of these warning signs, you might want to follow my (successful) experience in dealing with the problems.
Be informed — quickly
You need to do some detective work. Don’t just accept one side of the story, dig into it deeply, looking for evidence about problem’s source. I accessed the company server and started reading employee emails (employees know they don’t have privacy rights on business emails) and changed passwords.
Consider the circumstances
I could have fired purportedly trouble-making employee, but put things into context. Fear dominated the business at that stage (as it seems, in hindsight, it troubled many of our peers and competitors). Individual employees, acting out of self-preservation instincts, responded to the situation in different ways. I saw the real problem, in fact, was the consultant advising us on the crisis. He was adding to and enhancing the tensions in our business and needed to go.
Obviously, in crisis situations, we sometimes need to respond quickly, with incomplete information, and allow emotions to determine our choices. I could not control all of the emotions, but sought to see things as objectively as possible. Who really contributed value to the business and who drained its resources; and for those who could not succeed, how could we find a soft landing which would not drain our resources. In the case of two employees, this led to the decision to co-ordinate voluntary layoffs, allowing the employees to be eligible for federal employment insurance benefits. For the consultant, we arranged to find the funds to buy out his contract and have him leave — removing a major burden on the business.