Communicating the resignation of one of your organisation's key leaders can be a delicate task that must be handled professionally, usually quickly, and with aplomb. Internally, you will want to act before the employee grapevine takes hold and spreads inaccuracies. And externally, you want to proactively initiate the announcement rather than find yourself in a reactionary situation. If you do not have a standard company policy or communication process -- such as a crisis communication plan -- in place for these situations, use this experience to set one.
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Draft your key messages. Enlist top management to compile two to four key messages that form the crux of your communication. One main message will be the details of the resignation: Name of individual, position held; date resignation becomes effective; and reason for the departure. The other key messages should include a plan for replacement, such as: "Mr. Brown, who has worked competently alongside Mr. Smith for the past three years, will resume Mr. Smith's duties with no disruption to our customers." Include an expression of appreciation for Mr. Smith's service; and, immediate next steps, such as, "We have formed a search committee and hope to make an announcement of a permanent replacement within 30 days."
Hold an employee meeting. Employees should receive the news before the announcement is public. This is important for morale and to minimise fears or disruptions. A key executive or board member should address employees, using your key messages and assuring them that they will be kept apprised of hiring developments. Leave an opening for questions either at the meeting, or in private with their respective supervisors. Also outline clear guidelines for fielding calls from media, customers, analysts or other outside individuals regarding the resignation.
Meet with key stakeholders. This includes investors, top customers and financial analysts, as well as any others who have a stake in or can influence your business such as vendors and lenders. Meet with the individuals in person if possible, asking top management and directors to assist you. If you are reaching out to customers, include the sales persons responsible for handling their accounts so that the customers know there will be no disruption in their service. If personal meetings are not feasible, use telephone or video calls.
Make personal announcements to key media. Your media relations person likely has close working relationships with a few key reporters to whom you will want to disclose the information first. Let them know the timing of the general media announcement. With today's digital news services, they will "scoop" that general announcement. Another approach, particularly if your company is high-profile and the leader was closely identified with the company's culture and success, is to hold a press conference with your top tier media. This way your top media have the same opportunity to "break" the news.
Prepare the public announcement or news release. After your key audiences have been notified, send out a general press release with the key messages and information. Your board chairman or other top executive should be giving the primary quotes in the news release. And ideally, a top customer or other business analyst will give a quote expressing confidence in your organisation's ability to conduct business normally. The announcement should be sent over traditional news service wires, as well as other media your company uses, such as social media.
Tips and warnings
- Update your company information as soon as possible, including websites and contact information. Also record the steps you have taken during this process to provide documentation; conduct an internal review to assess the effectiveness; and to create, or incorporate into, your crisis communications plan.
- Some organisations, such as publicly traded companies, need to consult with their legal staff and investor relations department to make sure they are following correct protocol as well as federal regulations in their communications.
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