A large business had seen an increase in requests for some of its executives to talk to the media to comment as experts on particular issues. The volume of requests had increased to the point where managers in different parts of the company were finding it challenging to handle the flow and hadn't had as much time as they would have liked to prepare the executives before being interviewed.
Because the company was broken into smaller divisions, most had a small staff (sometimes one person) part of whose job it was to manage press relations. The heads of each of these staffs reported to one person who was in charge of corporate communications for the entire enterprise.
T.C., a reader who works as an executive for the company, had been a newspaper reporter in a prior professional life. She was also one of the executives who were regularly called upon to respond to media requests.
A few weeks ago, the head of corporate communications asked T.C. if she would be willing to lead a discussion among all of the various division staffers who handled press relations to give them tips they could give the executives who were sent out as experts to speak to the press.
She agreed to do so. Prior to that meeting, T.C. had a conversation with the head of corporate communications to make sure she knew what was expected of her. To prepare, T.C. spent a couple of hours putting together an outline of topics she thought would be useful to cover and specific tips that the staffers could use with the executives.
"When I got to the meeting, it seemed clear that none of the people had been told why I was coming," writes T.C. "I also wasn't sure that most of them knew who I was."
As the meeting progressed, it slowly became clear to T.C. that the session was turning into more of a meeting to discuss the challenges the staffers faced in dealing with various executives rather than a meeting to explore effective strategies they could use to train these executives to do a better job talking to the media.
"I hardly got a word in," writes T.C.
But, she writes, everyone, including the corporate communications manager, seemed pleased with the outcome of the meeting. They thanked her and then all left, never asking her if she had any particular advice she'd like to pass on.
"I put some time into preparing for the meeting when it turns out I didn't have to," writes T.C. "I really didn't even have to be there. That doesn't seem right. Should I say something to them?"
The right thing would have been for the head of corporate communications to manage the meeting better so that T.C.'s time was put to good use. If it turned out that the discussion went in an unexpected direction, but one which the head believed would prove useful, she should have explained that to T.C. after the meeting and let her know that she appreciated the time she put in, nonetheless.
T.C. gains little by saying anything at this point. But the right thing would be for her to keep this experience in mind should she be asked to make a return appearance.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to email@example.com.
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I disagree with your response about this situation. The person who prepared the presentation for executives does not need to "complain" but rather, he/she absolutely should communicate that the he/she did not have an opportunity to share the information requested and ask for clarification about this. Even though the meeting took an unanticipated direction, the requested information may still be needed. Perhaps a follow-up meeting is needed? Clear communication and requests for additional information among team members is necessary for an organization to function effectively.
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