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Before firing that memo think about its aftershock

Rose Muthoni @rosemuthoniN

Are you about to send an internal memo? Are contents in the memo ones you would not want your customers or the public to see?

Have you thought through the ramifications should the correspondence fall in wrong hands? If you are worried that if it leaked to outside eyes the memo could damage your firm’s reputation, then do not send it. It is time to stop and think.

Take Toyota’s case for instance: In 2010, the car manufacturer faced problems with an acceleration flaw in some of its vehicles. Its original story was that the acceleration-related accidents were the result of driver error. In a memo, however, Toyota said it was intentionally using media spotlight to distract investigators from uncovering the real fault.

After the memo was leaked, the company had to contend with 400 wrongful death lawsuits and a $1.2 billion (Sh120 billion) fine. In as much as this was not directly linked to the memo, the leaked document pointed investigators to the “scene of crime”.

In recent times, Google landed itself into trouble after one of its executives decided to pen a memo on why women could not be found in leadership positions.

It ‘explained’ the biological impediments that hinder women from advancing in technology. “We are regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in technology and leadership. But it is far from the whole story.

The distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biology and those differences could explain why we do not see equal representation in technology and leadership,” wrote the senior Google executive. The memo screamed that Google is not progressing on the gender front. Firing the executive did not do much to appease angered clients.

From these examples, it is safe to assume that employee loyalty is dwindling. Some of them will think nothing about leaking crucial information to competitors, customers, media or the public. To fight leaks, therefore, businesses need to embrace checks, prevent them and fight them.

When writing an internal memo, write it as if it was meant for the whole world to see. While at it, cleverly include your firm’s objective. This would certainly make for a smart public relations strategy. Although not 100 per cent full proof, you could consider liaising with your human resources department to retrain your employees on the importance of keeping company secrets.

But never ignore the fact that employee loyalty is an idea surpassed by time. Like in Google’s case, firing a guilty employee or taking legal action will not do you any good either. The “Big Brother is watching” notion will scare potential talent from your company. If an employee has been caught leaking a memo, the best strategy is to let dogs lie.

This is clearly demonstrated by Apple’s catastrophic response to leaked memos. After discovering that its techies were leaking information, Apple took a decision; It decided to warn employees about ramifications of leaking internal memos, using yet another memo.

In the document, the company claimed it had caught 29 leakers and arrested 12. “These people will not only lose their jobs, they can face extreme difficulty finding employment elsewhere,” read the memo. To prove the ineffectiveness of the memo, this, too, was leaked.

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