Changes at the top of an organization always bring with them a certain measure of trepidation and anxiety on the part of employees, investors, partners and customers. For the New York Times, the latest change at the top carries the further burden of a connection to a sexual abuse scandal.
Incoming New York Times CEO Mark Thompson was until recently the director general of the BBC, which has been rocked by allegations that the late Jimmy Savile, a popular BBC children's TV host, molested as many as 300 children. The BBC is also under fire for canceling a Newsnight news segment last year about Savile, according to the Wall Street Journal. Thompson has claimed that he had no role in the cancellation of the news segment and was not aware of the Newsnight investigation.
New York Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has reiterated his company's support for Thompson, who steps into his new role on Nov. 12, according to AP. Meanwhile, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote on Oct. 23 about Thompson, "How likely is it that he knew nothing?"
This is one change at the top that couldn't possibly be rockier. PR News checked in with change management expert Dan Pecchia, founder and president of Pecchia Communications, and asked him what advice he would give to the Times, based on the assumption that the media company was going to continue to stand by Thompson.
Stay out of the newsroom’s way: Any perception that the Times is holding the newsroom back from reporting the story will hurt. "It’s a great opportunity to showcase the way a world-class news organization handles this," says Pecchia.
Continue to defend and advance the new leader: Don’t look like you’re waffling on your decision. If you’re going to stick with Thompson, stay behind him 100%.
Try to register an early win: With so much negative attention, highlight three to four things Thompson does well. Doing this will make him look like a valuable addition to the company.
Here's hoping your change management communications are merely difficult and not Herculean.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson