With Covid-19 outbreak, many companies around the globe are struggling to keep their operations running as smoothly as before and one of the pillars we can all rely on to tackle the issues generated by this situation is effective communications.
In fast-moving and uncertain situations, many leaders face questions they may not even have answers to; and they need to communicate early and often with key constituencies throughout a crisis.
But how can you do that? Even if you’re still trying to understand the extent of the problem, being honest and open to maintain credibility is key, and approaching the situation with empathy is vital. Are your co-workers getting anxious? Understand their anxiety, be open to listening and be there for them.
Let’s investigate this matter further and check on some steps we can all put in place.
Create a Team for Centralized Communication
Everything is happening so quickly, breaking news can drop any moment so what you need is a crisis-response team.
Ideally, these teams should be small. You need to include a member of the leadership team, someone from corporate communications, an HR executive, and an expert in the area of concern. This team should:
- Meet regularly to monitor the situation closely as it continues to evolve.
- Be the main source of information about the crisis.
- Give regular updates to key constituencies.
- Be as transparent as possible. Explain what you know, what you don’t know, and your sources of information.
- Be succinct. Long turgid messages written by health professionals or lawyers will not be read or easily understood.
Communicate with Employees
Employees are your most important constituency and function as ambassadors to the community. If they aren’t informed and don’t understand what is going on, communications outside of the organization will be more difficult. The company needs to put everyone’s mind at ease and provide hope for the future.
Studies have shown that leaders, in particular, have a special role in reducing employee anxiety: we all know how reassuring can be to hear the voice of the leader in a new and chaotic situation. So, to communicate with employees, organizations should:
- Post information regularly in a highly visible location. This can be a physical location or virtual — email, the company intranet, or a Slack or their internal channel.
- Describe how decisions were made about issues such as travel, working from home, etc.
- Communicate no less than every other day.
- Try to provide timely information rather than waiting until you know all of the answers.
Communicate Regularly with Customers
Customers require a different approach than employees given that companies do not have the same access nor frequency with this constituency. You should:
- Focus on what is important to the customer. Make sure you’re reaching out to them regularly and that they know you’re there for them.
- Provide relief when possible!! People can be stressed out, and global health is at stake here. Be ready for some of the customers to ask for a postponement in terms of closing a deal or making a payment: try be understanding, it can be the bridge you build towards greater deals in the future!
- Focus on empathy rather than trying to create selling opportunities. Companies should rethink advertising and promotion strategies to be more in line with the current zeitgeist.
Be Proactive with Communities
What happens within organizations around the coronavirus affects everyone in the communities around them. At the very least organizations should do their best to make sure their actions do not negatively affect members of the community!
A crisis like this can also enhance relationships with the local communities in which companies operate by:
- Providing resources such as cleaning supplies or food for those in quarantine.
- Providing information to the local media to help to calm the communities down and while also enhancing your organization’s credibility.
- Providing transparency about what is happening within the company rather than going radio silent.
You can also share ways in which you’re helping your local, national, or global community in a crisis!
So, let’s wrap up.
When dealing with uncertainty, leaders need to look at communication from the perspective of your audience and have empathy for them rather than fear of doing the wrong thing. This requires companies to communicate when they don’t have all of the information, to reveal as much as they can about sensitive information, and to be vigilant about correcting mistakes without worrying about the repercussions!