In my previous post, I promised to provide some guidelines to rethink the way internal communications work into today’s world.

The “Mushroom Strategy” – “Treat employees like mushrooms… Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em guano.” no longer applies in today’s interactive environment. Instead, I believe there are enormous business benefits and opportunities just waiting to be unlocked by doing things differently.

Rule #1: Today, all employee communications are public statements.

Don’t kid yourself. A single mouse click on the “Forward” button is all it takes for one employee to spread any internal message to the outside world.

This is not a new phenomenon. Nearly ten years ago, while assisting a company manage sensitive issues surrounding the closing of a manufacturing plant, we cautioned the CEO about sharing his plans via e-mail with his frontline management team. “I trust them completely,” he said.DPPR Employee Comms 2

The announcement was scheduled for the next afternoon. Nevertheless, at 6:00 a.m., the company’s hometown paper hit the newsstands containing the full story, making an embarrassed management look foolish as it scrambled to apologize and explain to local and state government officials why they hadn’t called them first… and their own stunned workforce who learned they lost their jobs from the news instead of their own management.

The only difference between ten years ago and today is that the leaked email would instantly be all over Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn and in blogs, search results and news alerts everywhere.

When employees are told something different from what you’re saying to the outside world, a dismayed, demotivated (and possibly angry) workforce resentful of the contradiction may result. Similarly, if (more likely when) the news media and public learn of the apparent disconnect, it could very well trigger a full-blown crisis if it appears to be deliberate obfuscation.

If you’re not telling them clearly misunderstandings can cause similar trouble. That’s a big risk, because too many organizations today still regard internal communications as a low-priority activity. If “That’s HR’s job!” summarizes how your company manages internal communications, it’s time for a re-think.

And if you’re not telling your own people first, you’re squandering whatever trust your workforce (your most important productive asset) places in their leadership and its credibility. This loss affects the very core of their motivation, loyalty and productivity.

How’s that Mushroom Strategy working for you now?

Greg Loh is the managing partner of public relations and public affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s leading independent marketing communications agencies. Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinions of EMA.