When retailers make the news for the wrong reasons, staff must be kept in the loop.

For some staff, the uncertainty brought on by the recession has centred on more than just a dip in sales. Retailers have hit the headlines when the whole survival of a company has been at stake.

In such instances, communication to store management and store staff is vital to ensure that employees understand what they are reading in the press about their company and that their knowledge comes direct from the horse’s mouth.

Retailers including Jessops, Suits You and Blacks have suffered uncertain times of late as they’ve been through processes like CVAs or financial restructuring. Keeping staff on-board is vital through what is inevitably unsettling times.

Blacks Leisure chief executive Neil Gillis says transparency is key. “Having been through a number of business turnarounds, the best way of dealing with the uncertainty is being completely open and honest to staff,” he says.

At Blacks, Gillis and his team hold monthly meetings with about 400 staff, including head office and area managers, to tell them exactly what is going on in the business. Area managers are then given copies of the slides and presentation to communicate to their store managers and staff. “We go in to some detail to take it head on and explain what the issues are so people can make up their own minds,” says Gillis.

And he believes such transparency must be applied whatever the news. “The CVA was probably the worst news but we explained the process in detail, told them it was bad news and what we were going to do about it,” says Gillis.

Of course, things happen more than once a month, so in between meetings Gillis emails all staff involved telling them what has happened and what management think about what has happened. Store managers of the largest 70 stores are at present also able to directly email Gillis or his retail director with the promise of a 24-hour response.

“You have to be accessible and answerable. You can’t pretend things won’t get out or are not happening because even if they aren’t in the press they will be on Twitter or somewhere. You are respected more by people when you have told them the truth,” he says.

Jessops has endured a turbulent time too - including reports over Christmas that it was closing down when some press confused the liquidation of Jessops Plc with the stores business. Jessops HR director Jo Steen says: “We have an everyday link to stores from head office and then for immediate issues there is a verbal cascade of calls.” Staff are then referred on to Jessops’s social networking site, Chat, for more details.

Regularity of information is vital. “When you have a business that is challenged you have to have a clear communications roadmap. We also do quarterly roadshows because we have to,” says Steen.

Bad news is always hard to break but, in difficult times, honesty really is the best policy.


n Be open and honest - even
with bad news
n Communicate directly to as
many staff as possible and cascade that information
to those you can’t reach
n Allow two-way communication - listen and respond to
n Explain in detail - more information is better than
too little