Corporate Secrets

Infrastructure Series (Part 10)

The Infrastructure series will posted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through the month of November 2011 (except the week of Thanksgiving). 

First of all, there is no such thing as a corporate secret. If more than one person knows, it is no longer a secret. While the Colonel’s recipe for KFC and the Coca Cola mixture are considered to be corporate secrets, they are actually protected information. In both cases, many people know or have access or the companies would be at risk once the holder of the information passed. Protected information is far different than what might be considered a corporate secret.

Last July, we posted a blog series called Brand Change, and, while no company was named, several companies thought for sure that we were writing about them. Some of those even did a lot of finger pointing, suggesting sources of information and leaks. The reality of it was that there were a lot of bread crumbs left lying around with trails that led to potential conclusions, validations from many sources and logical processes that would surround such corporate actions. Internal leadership may have thought that there was a breach but there is little that can stay a secret when it involves a lot of moving pieces, lots of people and basically lives in an Internet open world.

There are always rumors, just like there are today about the same companies with actions, activities and positioning all pointing toward a likely culmination of events, some by the end of the month and some by the beginning of the year. A few will straggle to the end of the first quarter. All of these are dependent on the success of the effort more than the validity of the rumor.

If you want to keep things close to the vest in your company there are a few key concepts to consider:
  • Communications internally and externally. If you change how you communicate, the type of content and the frequency, you will raise awareness and interest in looking for change to occur. One company, for example, before almost all major changes implements a “communications freeze”. Within the deafening silence, rumors are born, speculation grows and most of it is fed by the fear factor. Proactive communications are important and will often cause the scent of the chase to change. If internal communications are also frozen, in the unknown, employees and staff will change behaviors, positioning and their communications to clients and public. They may also begin considering alternatives to maintain their income and livelihood as a just in case measure. These become bread crumbs on the trail.
  • Initiatives. If it appears that all initiatives and forward movement have stopped, red flags will litter the playing field and wave, enticing the bulls to charge. This includes changes in funding of business, pursuit of new business and the health of the business pipeline. A dry pipeline is more than a bread crumb.
  • Staffing. Changes in staffing ,especially reductions in staff that are not communicated properly, including attrition and non-replacement. These are easy to see thanks to social media, professional networking and job search sites. Warmth and connectivity to the leadership are also factors that come into play both for the staff and those on the outside including clients.
  • Purchasing, Clients and Contracts. Changes in purchasing, status of new and ongoing vendor contracts, and communications with clients all become a part of the puzzle. Companies who have been fairly aggressive in areas of their business that require partners or vendors and change or are put off indefinitely will open the speculation as vendors and partners seek other business to fill the void.
  • Media. Media that is not proactively fed goes hunting for meat. If the media is hungry because they are not getting anything from you and they can see the smoke from any of the other areas, it may be invitation to a feeding frenzy to see where the best story may be. One such item that caught the eye of many and was probably thought to be insignificant was a company’s decision not to continue membership in an organization that is a smaller player in the industry but vital in the continuance of specific business the company would be engaged in if continuing the line of business.
  • Social Media and Smart Mobile Devices. Perhaps these have done more to expedite the removal of veils of secrecy. While not everything that is posted is true or on the right path, definitive directions can be found and become a trail worthy of following. In many cases, it may not even be a post as much as the checking in at different points. For example, enough related people checking into the same place may look like a meeting.
  • Clients. Clients, especially in businesses that are affiliate based, are highly social with communications that do not always go through the company. They have been conditioned to see the company as a vendor and to a limited degree a partner, but usually there is a line that is drawn which is separated by money and trust. Changes in any of the items mentioned above reverberate through the client companies and speculation grows, sometimes in very damaging directions.
When we look at the importance of communications as a part of the infrastructure of a company, understanding the dynamics of both intended and unintended buzz is critical. If the Trojan Horse had been in today’s world with the Internet, it would not have been able to enter the city of Troy.