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The Unintended Consequences of Company Leaks

I know Mark Zuckerberg is everyone’s favorite CEO to hate these days. There’s plenty to be disgruntled about as a Facebook user. But yesterday’s Verge scoop of a secretly taped, and then leaked, employee meeting at Facebook has me intrigued, but mostly alarmed. Intrigued, yes – because it’s interesting to know what Zuckerberg has to say, rather candidly, about Elizabeth Warren, big tech breakups and other hot topics behind closed doors. But as someone who has led corporate communications and employee engagement for a large, globally distributed business, this leak has me concerned.

As employees of a company, we want and expect leaders to be open and transparent with us. We want to know what’s working and what’s not. We want to understand our role in helping the business succeed. But what happens when we break that trust, by leaking information that was meant for our ears only; provided to us confidentially as a member of the organization? For the record, I am not referring to, nor discouraging whistleblowers from reporting illegal or unethical behavior. I’m talking about disclosing company information that was provided to employees in good faith and taking advantage of transparency.

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen a shift from top-down management practices and closed-door meetings, to more open and transparent sharing of information. HR leaders have built teams of people focused on employee engagement: that very process of making sure we feel heard and respected, and connected to the organization. Google, which is known for very open and transparent dialogues with employees, faced a similar situation last year when an insider was feeding information directly to a New York Times reporter in real-time from the company meeting.

Will these types of leaks lead to executives pulling back on sharing information? Will they become buttoned up and share only need-to-know information? That’s a very possible outcome. And who will blame leaders for being more cautious, less trusting? Google leaders reportedly pulled back from the normal Friday meetings for quite some time following its incident.

As a communications consultant, I always advise leaders that there is no such thing as “internal only” or truly “off the record.” We must be comfortable with our words printed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. To Zuckerberg’s credit, he responded to the leak by promoting the content directly on his Facebook page, demonstrating his comfort level with the content, albeit more unfiltered than he may have delivered it publicly.

How would you have responded?


October 2, 2019


By Melissa Mahoney


Crisis Communications