Workshop: Personal Trainer

I think a member of staff might have leaked an internal email to the press. What should I do about it?

Stamp on this quickly! You need to take immediate steps to find out who has leaked this email. And then deal with it. In Government, if something like this had happened, there would be a leak inquiry. You ought to consider something similar - clearly you will know who was on the email list and you will want to talk to them. Obviously, it might be another member of staff that might have come across a printed copy, or perhaps it was an outsider.

Use this as an opportunity to remind all staff of their duty to the organisation and not to take steps that could damage or harm its reputation.

The branding and reputation of our organisations are one of our most treasured assets. Immense damage can be done to a brand by negative press attention. Just look at the disgraceful publicity surrounding the recent story on the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

As the profile and influence of the third sector grows, we must all be more aware that we are vulnerable to negative press. But in reminding staff of their duties to the organisation, you should also consider the channels for members of staff to raise legitimate concerns they might have about issues within the organisation.

Have you covered this issue in your staff handbook? If you have not done so, then a clause about the confidentiality of information and the prohibition on contact with the press unless authorised might be helpful.

Some organisations have "whistle blower charters". This is particularly common in the public sector where channels are provided to allow employees to raise their concerns if they consider actions being taken might be unethical or breach the law.

I don't know what the subject of the leak was, but had this been raised with you within the organisation? If it was simply a disgruntled member of staff trying to settle scores, then, frankly, you need to root them out and deal with them appropriately. And if it was an external individual or organisation, you need to stop this happening again.

It would be nice to think the press will only handle stories of our triumphs, but these days are gone. Even dear Third Sector is not above using leaks, and you can't blame them. We just have to be ruthless in ensuring they don't happen. This may sound 'control freaky', but it is part of the job.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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