When Crikey revealed the parlous state of News Corp’s newspaper assets for 2012-13, News panicked, sending in the lawyers and threatening every outlet that published stories based on the documents. But business experts say this only made things worse for Rupert Murdoch’s company — and the fact that a highly placed source within the company leaked the documents in the first place points to systemic problems behind the scenes.

Business expert Tim Harcourt from the University of New South Wales Business School told Crikey sister site SmartCompany the heavy-handed response only made things worse. “There’s no point denying it or trying to cover it up,” Harcourt said. “The more covering up you try to do the worse off you will be.” Harcourt questions News Corp’s strategy of passing off the figures as being outdated, saying people are more interested in trends over time. “You’ve got to be fair dinkum about the market,” he said.

But Harcourt says the fact that there was a leak in the first place suggests the company has bigger things to worry about. “In the corporate world, not so much in politics, people only leak or whistlebow when they are desperate,” Harcourt said.

Change Factory consultant Mike Dwyer agrees. “Treat it as serious, which it is,” Dwyer said. “It points to systemic cultural or process changes you need to make.” Dwyer says in these situations, the “damage has already been done” and the “most sensible thing is to just move on”. He says the best thing for the company’s employees is for the employer to be clear on their position. “You can’t control everything an individual says and who they say it to. The best you can do is widely circulate your position and where important to, have meetings to discuss the official response.”

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“Tell them what the corporation is saying and give them the opportunity to sign up to that.”

“You can’t put words in people’s mouths, so if they want to toe the company line, they will use their own words,” Dwyer said.

Psychologist and chief executive of Seven Dimensions, Eve Ash, also highlights the importance of being open with employees when a leak happens. “You then need to look at the causes and discuss it as a group,” Ash told SmartCompany. “Every difficulty a company faces is an opportunity to go forward in a new way. It might be painful and horrible, but it can lead to bringing everyone together.”

Ash says the best way for a company to respond to a leak of confidential information will also differ from case to case and whether or not the company is public. In the case of public companies, there are shareholders to think about as well. “It would be interesting to talk to Goldman Sachs staff, for example,” said Ash. “Any company that goes through some form of public exposure really needs to do a lot of talking internally because everyone wants to talk when this happens, the people who work in those companies become a focal point.”

While Ash says a company will usually designate one spokesperson to field questions, the employees of the company will be faced with questions from within their own circle of family and friends and they need to have confidence in their response. “There needs to be a strong message internally and all individuals should be part of that so they are not talking down their own company,” said Ash.

And the situation is amplified on social media, says Ash, who says the discussion should not be limited to the rules about what can and cannot be said on social media platforms. “You need to talk constructively about what we are going to do,” she said.

*This article was originally published at SmartCompany