In this SmallBusiness.co.uk monthly series of ‘Lessons Learned’, Jennifer Janson, author of The Reputation Playbook and managing director of Six Degrees, assesses how a company recently in the news has handled a crisis, and provides top tips for small businesses to avoid making the same mistakes. This month, she looks at the case of camera company Snap Inc and the claims of a dismissed employee.
If there’s one thing small business owners fear (or should fear), it’s knowing that your company is being talked about negatively – by employees, customers, suppliers, the market in general. Your reputation is ‘what people think of you’ and nothing more. As a small business owner in particular, that reputation is something you should protect at all costs.
Imagine how it must have felt for Evan Spiegel, founder and CEO of Snapchat, to wake up one morning in January to news that a former employee was very publicly accusing the company of dishonesty.
If you’ve not followed the story, in a nutshell, it’s this: Anthony Pompliano – an employee who was dismissed by Snap Inc after only three weeks – has made allegations that the company is inflating key metrics in advance of its upcoming initial offering on the public stock market (IPO). The news has been covered by mainstream business and tech media, and spread significantly via social media. Snap Inc has responded saying it has reviewed the complaint, and dismissed it as having no merit and simply being the actions of a disgruntled former employee.
In the case of Snap Inc, it is too early to tell what effect this might have on its IPO. But the issues surrounding how to deal with a disgruntled former employee are the same whether you are running one of the most popular social channels, or a local gym. For now, I think Snap Inc has handled the crisis professionally – and with transparency. But behind closed doors the team is almost inevitably getting uncomfortable questions from existing and potential investors.
What to do to protect yourself from negative comments in public
Behave with integrity.
It sounds obvious, but if you don’t want people to speak badly of your business, then don’t give them something to complain about. Every company makes mistakes, and how you deal with those speaks volumes. If you are immediately defensive, rude and evasive you will give the impression that you have, in fact, got something to hide. Someone once said to me ‘never waste a good crisis.’ The idea is that every crisis creates an opportunity to do better, to communicate well and to treat people as they want to be treated.
Tap into your ambassadors.
We all know that sometimes it is impossible to avoid negative feedback. Some people are just, well, negative. If it is a one-off (either customer or supplier or investor) if you have paid attention to your reputation-building for some time, you should see that your ‘fan base’ steps up to defend you. This is the best possible scenario because it demonstrates that you ultimately strive to do the right thing (or offer the best service, or make the best product), and have happy customers and employees as a result. That goodwill you build up can pay dividends. And the defence is much more meaningful if it comes from someone other than you.
Keep the dialogue going… and ideally out of the public eye.
For someone to resort to a lawsuit (at least in this country) the breakdown in communication between employer and employee must have been pretty significant. Unfortunately, in HR disputes, the law makes it very difficult to simply ‘be human’ without taking significant financial risks. So understandably, many people take the advice of the experts and say nothing more than they are required to say by law. In my experience, this can result in a rather protracted and difficult negotiation that could potentially be avoided if all parties could just have a frank discussion in a room together.
Weathering a storm of negativity around your business is likely to happen at one point or another. Take the time now to think about how you would handle it, and write it down. It’s always worth reiterating your company’s core values to the team, and reinforcing how important it is that everyone (especially management) acts in line with those values.