The findings of Choice’s recent “Global Outplacement Report’ identified some potential opportunities and challenges associated with the use of social media in managing such change.
Context for the discussion
Earlier this year the British music and entertainment retailer, HMV, was placed in Administration. The Administrators have the responsibility for managing the ongoing trading of the organisation whilst restructuring it to achieve a sale to repay the borrowings and creditors of the organisation.
The Administrators set to work but their restructuring actions sparked a flurry of activity on social media. Unfortunately, no one anticipated the power of social media and the potential brand damage which could result from the comments and observations of departing employees. HMV would have been unable to ‘buy’ the amount of publicity generated. Unfortunately, the negative publicity may have caused significant brand damage resulting in loss of sales and business value.
Similarly, last year Toyota Australia announced 350 redundancies at their Melbourne plant. Despite outlining the process to be employed to ‘select’ those to be made redundant, the implementation of the plan was a public relations disaster with TV news crews ambushing employees as they were informed of their redundancy. Subsequent, newspaper and social media coverage was harsh in its assessment of how Toyota had implemented its plan.
In our opinion, some basic planning in both cases may have limited the negative publicity generated.
Below, you will find some media articles to illustrate the storm that unfolded…
HMV case (The Independent 31/1/13)
HMV faced a mutiny as disgruntled staff took over the struggling retailer’s Twitter account to express their anger at being fired.
Workers at the entertainment store “live blogged” their own sacking on the micro-blogging site as the administrators who took over the business confirmed news of 190 firings.
HMV moved to delete the posts from the @hmvtweets account, which broadcast news of a “mass execution of loyal employees” to 61,500 followers.
However the tweets had already been copied on screen grabs and widely distributed.
The rogue tweeter began: “We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!!” Another tweet, apparently from an iPhone, reported “60 of us being fired at once”.
A subsequent posting read: “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’”
The insurrection lasted 20 minutes before the company removed the tweets, which began trending with the hashtag, #HMVXFactorFiring.
Later on, more tweets appeared, apparently from a different member of HMV personnel, referring to the earlier comments.
The first read: “Our @hmvtweets picked up a lot of attention today, it’s clearly been a tough day for us all at hmv, please stick with us #hmvxfactorfiring.
“There have been job losses today, but not in our stores. We are still open for business, thx for your continued support #savehmv”
In direct reference to the disgruntled Tweeter, the latest post read:
“One of our departing colleagues was understandably upset. We’re still here thou, thx for supporting hmv thro these challenging times”
HMV staffer claims responsibility for tweeting mass sacking (The Daily Telegraph 31/1/13 – By Emma Rowley
A former employee at HMV tonight claimed responsibility for using its official Twitter feed to “live tweet” her and others’ mass firing.
In a statement, the retailers said all the job losses were made across the ‘head office and distribution network’
The online revolt over the stricken music retailer’s “ruin” came as administrators laid off 190 people at its head office and its distribution network. Finance director Ian Kenyon, appointed in August, is understood to have been among that number.
As the redundancies took place on Thursday, the @hmvtweets feed on the social networking site went distinctly off message, starting with a tweet reading:
We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!! #hmvXFactorFiring
Tonight Poppy Rose Cleere, formerly HMV’s social media planner, claimed responsibility, saying senior staff had “never seemed to grasp” the importance of social media to build customer relationships.
“I would apologise for the #hmvXFactorFiring tweets but I felt like someone had to speak. As someone without a family to support/no mortgage I felt that I was the safest person to do so,” she wrote via her personal Twitter account.
“Not to mention, I wanted to show the power of Social Media to those who refused to be educated.
In a lengthy explanation, she added: “I hope they’ve finally listening.”
I hoped that today’s actions would finally show them the true power and importance of Social Media, and I hope they’re finally listening.
A family member, also on Twitter, said that “strangers fired mass groups” at the company and that Poppy was “already receiving job offers” in social media following her actions.
The string of tweets from HMV’s official account had read: “There are over 60 of us being fired at once! Mass execution, of loyal employees who love the brand.
“Sorry we’ve been quiet for so long. Under contract, we’ve been unable to say a word, or – more importantly – tell the truth.
“Under usual circumstances, we’d never dare do such a thing as this. However, when the company you dearly love is being ruined… and those hard working individuals, who wanted to make HMV great again, have mostly been fired, there seemed no other choice.”
“As management raced to stop the tweets, the feed read: “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask “How do I shut down Twitter?”
The messages, which were all tagged #hmvXFactorFiring, were quickly deleted. However, they none the less spread rapidly across the site as users retweeted the posts and grabbed screenshots of the comments. “Never fire the person in charge of your Twitter feed without revoking their access first,” came the advice from one onlooker.
The Tweeter’s identity known within the company, but no action was taken as she has already been let go. HMV said in a later tweet that it had been the actions of an “upset colleague”.
Toyota to march workers off Altona plant as job cuts take effect (By: Pia Akerman From: The Australian April 16, 2012 3:27PM)
SACKED Toyota workers at the carmaker’s Melbourne plant say they’ve been treated like dogs and slaves, as the company today started axing 350 jobs from the plant.
Toyota called in security guards today as it started axing 350 workers’ jobs at its Altona plant.
Each worker was ferried across the road in a minivan to a reception centre, where they were handed a folder and told they no longer had a job.
Inside the folder was an A4 sheet outlining the criteria for their dismissal.
Employee of 18 years Sam Taddesse said he was handed a bag and told to collect his things in the presence of five security guards. He was then escorted to a waiting minivan.
Mr Taddesse, who worked in material handling and was a safety representative, said he wasn’t given a chance to finish his coffee and say goodbye to his team members when he was singled out at the start of his shift.
“I never expected from my company to be treated like this,” he said.
“They treat you like a slave, for 18 years of work we should get something better.
“It’s very, very sad for me.”
Paul Polistena said Toyota was singling out for redundancies union shop stewards and safety representatives, such as himself.
The worker of 15 years said he wasn’t given a proper explanation why he was on the chopping block.
“They preach about family this company but they treat you like dogs,” Mr Polistena said.
“I know why I got the flick because I’m a health and safety rep and a strong one so if they get rid of me it’s very easy (to run the plant).”
Comment is being sought from Toyota on this issue.
Chang Kim, 49, had to phone his wife and tell her the bad news.
The father of four, who worked on the factory line, said he would have liked a better explanation about why he was losing his job after 24 years.
“I’m pretty upset, pretty unhappy,” he said.
The manufacturer will issue compulsory redundancies for 350 staff today and tomorrow.
Toyota spokeswoman Beck Angel denied the redundancy strategy was absolutely not heavy-handed, adding that security had been stepped up at the union’s request during the 10-week negotiating period.
She said staff were being informed shop by shop and transported across the road where there was more room.
“We’re doing one-on-one meetings with everyone. We just don’t have the facilities at the plant to facilitate them,” Ms Angel said.
Toyota: Was it bad HR, bad PR or just bad leadership? (Posted on April 19, 2012 by Serge Sardo)
There were plenty of good things that could have been said about the way Toyota handled its recent redundancies at the Altona plant in Melbourne.
First the company announced some months ago its intention to make job cuts and explained that the strong Australian dollar was the straw that was breaking the car maker’s back in what was an already tough market. So, Toyota was upfront and transparent. All good!
Then, when it did make its announcement, the redundancy payout was four weeks’ pay for every year of service capped at 90 weeks when 75 weeks would have met legal requirements, and the company would be providing assistance for those affected to find another job. In both areas, brownie points for generosity.
But instead of all these positives in what can never be a good news story, the nation was treated to a crude exercise in ponderous Orwellian behaviour by Toyota. The affected 350 workers were told to pack up their belongings and escorted to a reception centre where they were handed documentation that related to their redundancy that, astonishingly, included a score sheet setting out their personal failures in the areas of behaviour, skills and knowledge relative to their colleagues.
There was failure evident at Toyota, however. Someone in a critical planning role had failed to join the dots. If the company’s intention is to assist in getting 350 laid-off workers new jobs how, at the same time, can the company be saying publicly that they are no good? What starts to reveal itself is a muddle-headed management malaise that raises a question about why so many workers had seemingly not come up to scratch.
Whatever else might be said, what happened was a disaster and damaging to the Toyota brand, a brand with a hitherto enviable reputation as a good employer. It suggests some serious flaws in Toyota Australia’s management and leadership were displayed publicly in the culling. The Human Capital online newsletter described the Toyota exercise as a “HR botch-job”. The Australian Financial Review headline called it “An unusual way to let go”, which was probably a nice way of saying “What a mess!”
A mess it was, but I would add that it was not necessarily a mess that can be dumped on HR professionals. What’s important to understand is whether the HR function at Toyota is structured in such a way that it can and does contribute to important strategic decisions. This is a perennial issue for many good HR practitioners. The HR function in many organisations remains largely impotent, often reporting into finance or other operational functions. If this was the case at Toyota then responsibility for this “HR botch-job” should be placed squarely with the Toyota executive team. We’ve been banging on for years that good HR can never happen without the support, respect and endorsement of the CEO. Good HR can never happen when it reports to the finance department.
I would suggest that it’s reasonable to expect that a company of Toyota’s size and resource-base would be able to deliver a coherent and coordinated communication of the key messages in a mass redundancy that could minimise the harmful effects on workers and limit damage to the brand. Neither of those two things happened and it’s not necessarily because HR bungled it.
The PR side to this exercise should have included credible and consistent narratives, one internal and the other external.
The internal communication needed to be directed at both the laid-off workers as well as those retained by the company. People still working at the company are not stupid. They can see that if their colleagues are treated shabbily today, it might happen to them tomorrow.
The external narrative should not have included any information related to the reasons that workers were chosen in the cull that reflected negatively on those workers. They are private matters and should have been communicated privately, if at all. Without a doubt, communicators need to tell the truth – but a mass redundancy is not a court of law. There is no requirement to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the entire world, especially if negative repercussions on the affected workers are likely to result.
There are many circumstances in a big company where the human resources and public relations functions need to be authorised to talk to each other. In the Toyota case, it’s by no means evident they did.
Serge Sardo is the chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute
There were subsequently in excess of 30 responses to this blog article