Communicating through crisis

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Communicating through crisis

In this challenging time, we all have to adapt to new ways of working and if you’re in leadership or management you will have had to make decisions on how to navigate the business while looking after your people.

One of the most important things to get right and consistent is communications. When people don’t have sufficient and clear information they will feel stressed, make assumptions and according to how our brains work, think the worse. To respond we need to build assurance and trust by communicating well.

Getting to grips with an effective approach to communicate and then ensuring that it happens is also difficult, when there are so many other things to think about – including our own and our family’s well-being. To help as we attempt to communicate effectively, here are a few things to consider as we work our way through this season.

Keeping messages simple but accurate is key.

There is a lot of information out there and not all of it is correct. You will want your employees to expect honesty and clarity from you so you become a single source of truth. The best way to achieve this is by working with internal communications to shape a set of messages that can be passed all the way through the organisation.

Start with engaging the senior leadership team and your direct reports and then ensure that leaders/managers all have the same brief. That way no one will need to source information for themselves or from anywhere else and your teams will receive the same consistent messages.

What you don’t want is for people to be confused about what is happening with their work and the workplace. Uncertainty, as financial markets change etc., can cause some to feel their jobs are at risk. Being open about the threat, but sharing where there are positives and what you are doing to combat this is most helpful. Don’t let your employees learn about changes to your organisation via the news media – engage with them first.

Individuals engage with communications differently

Using creativity and multiple channels to share messages will ensure you connect with your employees properly. Based on my recent look into neuroscience, we cannot assume that people have understood the messages sent in the way they were intended. This means using a variety of methods to share the same message. Also, making sure that your communication contains plain English and simple methods are used to regularly reach your people.

Consider using video, podcasts, graphics and animation as well as some of the more common methods and have a clear process of how you communicate, as an organisation, in crisis, so people know what to expect.

Help people to work remotely

Suddenly remote working is something that’s enforced rather than a work-life choice and many struggle with the concept. Working with your communications team to support people as they prepare to work from home will help to alleviate fears and protect their well-being. If done well with sufficient support, it might even help people to positively experience a new way of working.

To alleviate concerns from individuals let your people know that you are aware of the challenges in working remotely. Set up online huddles and team meetings and encourage them to reach out to colleagues via phone, Skype or Zoom. Explore implementing Microsoft Teams and other social network tools which in most cases can be set up quite quickly.

Make it as easy as possible by creating a level of routine for employees by planning meetings and check ins. Never let people feel that you don’t trust them. Everyone will handle remote working differently and some will need time to adjust, so keeping open dialogue is key.

We are in the early stages of this and it is unknown how long it will all last. Make it clear that you will keep people updated along the way as things change or as you develop even better ways for people to work and stay connected. How you get employees engaged with this is important – use your communication teams to help shape the narrative and material to properly support this change.

Situation planning

I once worked with a control centre and they had a very impressive situation room. We’re in a critical time that requires strategic thought and planning. Ensure that you, along with the communications lead, guide leadership to set space or time aside to regularly meet. Also, advise on who the right people are to join that meeting in order to make decisions quickly. Things are moving fast so creating a forum with those who are fully aware of the issues and challenges, and senior enough to make the decisions, can be the difference between success and failure. We never want to lose people or further disengage them by handling crisis badly.

People are reliant on those in leadership to lead and, to a certain extent, have the answers. We know that our leaders don’t have all the answers, but collectively we can provide support and advice to manage communications to be affective.  It has to be said that sometimes HR and communications have to step forward and lead some of these processes. We are best placed based on our skills and experience to share the right advice when dealing with difficult situations. For communicators most have had to deal with or develop crisis plans, so work together to support the organisation.

Take care of each other

Being human and connecting with each other is what we all need now. Already we have seen people come up with innovative ways to stay connected and build a bit of normalcy. It is great that we have technology, so ensure that you use it to its fullest potential. Recommend daily huddles, create short videos that can be sent out via the intranet or other employee apps. Have conversations that show concern for the person rather than just the work at hand. Be creative and invite your communications team to come up with campaigns that can continue engagement. This is definitely the time for both HR and Communication professionals to lead and support to keep things together.