Q&A with Chris Chiames
On communicating in the face of multiple Chapter 11 reorganizations, labor negotiations and intense media scrutiny
On communicating in the face of multiple Chapter 11 reorganizations, labor negotiations and intense media scrutiny Chris Chiames joined US Airways in May 2002 as part of a new management team that was brought together to oversee a major financial restructuring. His role? Figure out how best to communicate to employees and media during this time—a three-year period so rocky it spawned two Chapter 11 reorganizations and multiple rounds of labor negotiations. These days, as a workplace communications expert with the consulting firm F&H Solutions Group, he counsels companies on how to communicate effectively with employees during times of change and uncertainty. RR spoke with him about the experiences that made him an expert on the subject. When you joined US Airways, you basically oversaw communication to all audiences—did that make things easier or harder? I served as senior vice president of corporate affairs, and had responsibility for media relations, employee communications, government relations, investor relations, consumer affairs and community affairs. When I joined the company, CEO Dave Siegel agreed to my suggestion to bring all these functions under one umbrella, which was enormously helpful in communicating consistently to all internal and external audiences. What was your No. 1 goal for communicating during this time? From the get-go, we took the approach that we weren't going to sugarcoat anything. A restructuring—especially one that involved two Chapter 11 filings in less than three years—is not pleasant. So we weren't going to make happy talk. But we were dedicated to communicating openly and honestly about the challenges the company faced, and most importantly, what we needed to do to fix the company.
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