Getting communication right within a company is a challenge at the best of times. During a crisis, it not only becomes more difficult, but it’s also much more essential to get it right. When only 13% of employees believe that their leaders communicate effectively, it can be an uphill struggle.
Communication during this pandemic is vitally important. It doesn’t matter if your business has been able to keep working or not. You need to be communicating clearly and regularly with both your staff and your clients. Getting it right can empower your teams to keep striving forward and coming out of the crisis stronger. It can even be an opportunity to strengthen your client relationships. However, getting it wrong can alienate your clients and your workforce.
When it comes to crisis communication, you need to reach out to all of your key stakeholders. This means you need to have a focus on both internal and external messaging.
The employees of your company are the single most significant factor in deciding how you bounce back from this crisis. By communicating with them effectively, you can build their loyalty. This is a chance to build trust in your leadership structures.
Give your managers the tools they need to inform and support their teams. How you handle this situation will colour your staff’s morale and opinions for a long time.
You need to have a plan for external communications. Your messaging needs to reach all of your stakeholders. It needs to be consistent and in tune with the situation. Times will be worrying for you and your customers. Open and honest communication can build trust and loyalty. You will need that once we get to the other side of this.
Most companies have a crisis communication plan. However, it may not be fit for purpose, given the long term nature of this situation. It would be prudent to review your communication plan and ensure that everyone is aware of it.
Getting the tone right can increase business. So make sure you follow your brand style. Can you be fun or playful? Do you need to maintain a serious and professional tone?
Examples of this are how the American Red Cross responded to an accidental tweet by their social media manager. The account holder posted about picking up another four-pack of beer on the official account. The tweet was deleted and replaced with an assurance that the Red Cross was sober. Other brands then encouraged people to use the hashtag #gettngslizzerd to promote donations. This lighthearted reaction to a potential crisis resulted in a surge of funding and a greater awareness of the work the Red Cross does.
Good Crisis Communication
Excellent communication has a few key features to it. These are no different in times of crisis. Before you starting sending out emails, tweets or Slack messages, make sure your messaging ticks these boxes.
Precise language is essential. If your message is unclear or fuzzy in any way, it will lead to questions and concerns. You need to be specific when you can. Importantly don’t be afraid to identify things that are yet to be decided or are simply unknown. Using precise and clear language will provide certainty and reduce the incidence of misinformation and rumour.
It is essential to share information with teams promptly. If there is a time lag in sharing information, your employees will begin to worry. For example, if there are government announcements about the lockdown, plan a meeting/email to your team the next working day to clarify how the decision affects your company.
By sharing information quickly, you will make your team feel valued and prevent idle speculation. You will keep your teams focused and productive, and you will build trust and security for your staff.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to over-communicate. But you mustn’t communicate just to be saying something. You need to make sure that everything you say to your team or your clients is on message and relevant to them.
In an ideal world, your communication should be as concise as possible. No one wants to wade through an essay to find the point of your message. This is doubly true when people are worried and anxious.
Effective communication is a two-way exchange. Your employees need to feel heard. And, you need to listen to their worries and concerns to address them. This two-way process is even more critical in times of crisis. With such an unprecedented situation, there is no road map. You need all the information you can get.
Issues To Watch For
These are not normal times, so there are bound to be some issues. You will need to stay agile and responsive to the situation. However, there are two significant issues that you want to keep an eye on. Handling these things wrong can be enough to sink your ship even in untroubled times.
When you are communicating electronically, there is a lot more scope for rumours to start. Whether it’s over Slack or in an email, a message can be misconstrued. Idle speculation can be taken as concrete fact. It’s a fertile breeding ground for rumour and misinformation.
To avoid this, you should make sure to have a forum to stamp out any brewing rumours before they become widespread.
Lack Of Empathy
Whenever you are communicating, inside or outside of your company, make sure that you start from a place of empathy. Try to put your feelings aside and consider what the person you are communicating with is feeling. There is no doubt that everyone is finding life hard at the moment. However, no matter how bad things are for you, be mindful that others may have it a lot worse.
There is a great cautionary tale of this exact thing. In 2010 in the wake of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, the then CEO of BP gave an interview. He was quoted as saying “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”. He was so caught up in how hard it had been for him; he somehow forgot that employees had died in the accident. Two weeks later, he was no longer CEO.
Getting It Right
For effective crisis communication, always think about how your message will be received and what the recipient needs to know. Be mindful of the situation to get the tone right and always be ready to act fast and be responsive.