This is a tough one. We already know that communication is important and often recognise that poor communication is the reason something fails. This observation does not solve the challenges. What is good communication?
In times of crisis, not only activities and operations are different from business-as-usual, also the way we manage our organisation and teams, as well as the way we take decisions and execute them will change.
This is one of the 3 main sections from the "Ultimate Guide for Phase 1 - Rapid Response to Mitigate the Immediate Impact of Covid"
Regarding Communicate for Clarity:
Risks to address
- Poor flow of information
- Dis-information and false news getting the overhand
- Disengagement of team members, particularly remote workers are vulnerable
- Decline of trust by team members, clients, suppliers, authorities, public etcetera
Let’s elaborate a bit on false news and disinformation.
In times of crisis we see a lot of concerns, fears and uncertainties. Under pressure, people tend to seek for handholds to increase a feeling of certainty. Poor communication will lead to people searching for other sources of information, fill in the blanks and let emotions become dominant when looking at information, opinions and decisions.
For most people falling into this trap, it is absolutely not intentional and by no means an act of sabotage or resistance. It is a natural defensive behaviour of human beings which you as leader need to avoid as much as possible.
- Build confidence and clarity
- Build trust in the leadership and each other
- Build trust from external stakeholders
- Ensure an accurate information flow through the organisation and with external stakeholders
- Frequent & timely
- Transparent & Authentic
- Designated team & resources
- Empathy & Authority
- Listen & Respond
Frequent and timely
In times of crises, you need to be around and very visible for your team members and other stakeholders. That is what they need and expect. So;
- Overcommunicate! Nothing wrong with communicating at least once a day. Too little communication is a bigger enemy than too much communication.
- It is perfectly fine to repeat messages. Repeating messages makes sure everyone will receive it, memorises it, understands the importance of it and will repeat it to their contacts. That is “receptive impact”.
- Be early with your new messages, it pays. The person who brings a (new) problem, concern and plan to the table first, always leads.
Transparent & Authentic
Transparent an authentic messages and ways of communication have a better impact and build more trust. Therefore;
- Be to the point and succinct
- Be clear
- Be consistent
- Share what you know and what you do not know
- Be clear about what to expect and what not to expect
- Explain choices, rational behind the decision and consequences
- Paint the picture of the worst-case scenarios
Empathy and Authority
Always communicate with empathy and authority, in each message and communication again;
- Articulate how you feel the same pains and concerns
- Be explicit that you care and understand them
- Be firm about the decisions, choices and the reasoning
- Be firm in phasing the approach and how to stick to the current phase of the approach
- Be firm in relating the issues and bad news to the worst-case scenarios, to avoid any bad news to be a reason to start doubting the decision and your leadership
- Be clear in the challenge of acting with uncertainties, articulate that we are all doing the best possible
Designated teams and sources
With social media and many connected sources, everyone can share information and absorb information. There is a lot of false information and a wide range of hoaxes out there which can unnecessarily arouse concerns and fears of your clients, suppliers, shareholders and other stakeholders and keep them from being well informed.
Some good practices we saw are;
- Designate dedicated and single teams for communication to clients, suppliers, shareholders and other stakeholders
- Designated 1 or 2 “sources of truth” per type of stakeholder which your company will use to keep these stakeholders informed. Be explicit that any news or information related to your business from other sources should not be trusted
- Include videos and FAQ sections in these “sources of truth”
- Other team members may not share information or news with stake holders, other than literally sharing news and information of the “sources of truth”
- Stop or at least assess and correct standard communications which may be automated.
For example, stop automated marketing campaigns.
Ensure you are adequately addressing all relevant stakeholders and organise your communication sources and communication teams adequately. Some stakeholders to keep in mind;
- Team members in every function or region, on every level, also if they are inactive because of lack of workload
- Partners, dealers and distributers
- Governmental authorities
- Healthcare authorities
- Financial partners and other investors
Listen and Respond
Communication is not only about informing stakeholders. It is also about listing, learning, making them feel heard and capturing important information. The communication strategy should allow bi-directional communication via regular channels and events.
Some practical approaches being used are;
- In every meeting, allow for
- Emotional check-in
- Questions and concerns
- Sharing information
- Ask for feedback, new insights and early signs
- Ask for issues, concerns and problems
- Ask for actions and decisions made, including the “professional disobedience”
- Ask for ideas, options and alternatives
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