COVID-19 has been one of the most detrimental and historical crises of our lifetime. Most of us have never ever experienced anything like this. Having said that, crises have occurred in the past, from the Spanish flu to natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes to terror attacks like 9/11…. World leaders and businesses are no strangers to crisis. When you are in crisis mode, knowing how to communicate with your team and those who are impacted is crucial. Communication becomes a key element to recovering from crisis.
When the future is uncertain, people will undoubtedly have questions, fears, insecurities, and basic human needs. Remember that, above all else, your job as a leader is to exude confidence, be as honest as you can be, and hold your organization together. Doing that will require a solid communications plan. Here are some things to keep in mind as you work through a crisis as a leader:
Work on Yourself First
Since you will be the one taking the lead on communications, you need to mentally prepare yourself to be that messenger, first and foremost. You are in charge at a critical time and taking on a highly challenging task: providing sense of security and inspiring your team to stay healthy and productive in times of uncertainty. As a leader and communicator, you need to be in optimal condition yourself, or you’ll burn out trying to help everyone else, after which point you’ll be no good to anyone. Preparation and messaging will be more important than ever. Prior to your first communication, and on an ongoing basis, it will be important to find healthy ways to cope with the stress, eat right, and get enough sleep.
Craft a Communication Plan
Communications need to be consistent. You need a clear plan in place pertaining to what you say, how you are going to say it, and what avenues and technologies you are going to use to get your message out. You should have a schedule and a format for your written and verbal communications. Communications must be made early and often as much as possible and should also consist of periodic meetings where changes are announced, things are discussed, and team members can voice their individual concerns.
Don’t Try to Gloss Over Bad News
Transparency is key. You do not want to try to hide bad news or lie to your employees. This will lead to more problems down the road and will demoralize your team further than if you had just leveled with them. Not only that, but dishonesty also erodes away at trust, and when you lose trust, your communications and your team fall apart. Do not try to sugarcoat and make things seem peachier than they are.
Be Consistent and Clear
Communicate with your team clearly and as often as possible, keeping them up to date on the evolving situation. You will also need to make your expectations clear and consistent. There can be room for flexibility, but that should be explained. You should also be careful not promising anything in the future. During a crisis, things change constantly, and you may change direction and make new decisions as things get worse or better and it is important to speak of the current situation, and the measures being taken.
Empathize with Your Team
When you are writing or communicating with your team, try to keep the targeted audience in mind. You can never make everyone happy and please them all, but you can consider their needs as you look to communicate and recover. “What kind of support would I want to provide if it were me? Would I want reassurance if I were in this situation?”
Know What You Can and Cannot Share
If you are not the chief decision-maker in the company, it is imperative to clarify what you are allowed to share and not allowed to share. You do not want to lie or hide information, and do not, under any circumstances, release information the company has not allowed you to release, even “off the record” or in what you may think is a private conversation.
Generally, information about layoffs, pay cuts, and critical changes that affect employees in the company is not to be shared unless you are given explicit permission or instructions to do so.
Do Not Try to Save Face
Above all, be humble and admit you made a mistake. If you get it wrong, accept responsibility, and if you do not have answers, admit that you do not know. We are all human, and your team members know that and will appreciate you at least leveling with them and acknowledging that you make mistakes too.
Move to Inspire
Above all, your job is to hold your team together and inspire them to succeed and keep going in tough times. Make sure you consistently acknowledge the value of your team members and their contributions. Frequently thank them and find ways to show your appreciation. Encourage them to overcome and reassure them of their value. Above all, form your communications in a way that builds inspires to charge forward and be productive even in uncertain times.