Taking
the helm

Navigate and communicate through changing times

Posted by Rita Verschuuren on March 26, 2020

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These are unprecedented times. The coronavirus pandemic has left many of us feeling fearful, apprehensive, and alarmed. We’ve seen much of Europe and North America grind to a halt. This is something that most of us have never experienced in our lifetimes, or even could imagine. 

During this period, we turn to our leaders for guidance, information, and even comfort. In short, we rely on them to deliver excellent communication that reassures us and lifts us up. 

In recent days, we’ve seen political leaders explain the rationale behind their difficult choices, knowing full well that this might be the defining decision of their careers. Some have done this with wartime quality, drawing praise, and confidence that crosses partisan lines. Their open, honest, calm approach that has blended facts with explanation, has helped to dispel rumors and speculation. 

Applying the rules to business

But we need to remember that leadership is not just about politics and world leaders. Within business, communication is required at times like these. External communications is a fast way to communicate corporate messages to all of your stakeholders, but additionally, a highly personal approach will be required at an internal level.

Employees are nervous and will be looking towards their leaders for guidance right now. They expect strong leadership from their CEOs, supervisors, executives, and team leaders. They want to be sure that all their colleagues are well, and that their workplace surroundings are safe.

Just because employees have direct access to many sources of information in this connected world, doesn’t mean that internal communication can be skipped. Creating and widely sharing a regularly updated summary of facts and what the specific internal implications are is invaluable. It means that time is not wasted debating what the facts are or reaching false conclusions.

Six lessons learned from today’s unfolding events

Based on our expertise and support for EMG clients around the world, we have distilled the following lessons for responding to unfolding events, communicating, and extracting and applying learnings:

  1. Update intelligence on a daily basis
  2. Beware of hypes and news cycles
  3. Do not assume that information creates informedness
  4. Use experts and forecasts carefully
  5. Reframe your understanding of what’s happening
  6. Beware of bureaucracy

When in doubt, communicate

An empathetic people first mentality is key at times like these. Leadership means knowing that many employees will be feeling powerless and isolated right now. This is why they are empowering them with specific actions they can take to get through. For example, they could be offering practical tips on how to respond to having to work from home.

They could be bringing in some fun and anecdotal suggestions for how the team can continue to socially connect, even while avoiding face to face contact. They could be providing reassurance through specific personal observations, and anecdotes. As well as checking in with people on their work, projects, and deadlines, a big part of their job, especially now, is to check in with people personally, and see how their families are coping.

A quick text or a call will let their colleagues know they care. A great leader offers them support, guidance, and reassurance. When in doubt, they communicate.

Speed and agility 

A good communication strategy needs to succeed externally too of course, which is why speed and agility is key. Your customers will also want to know that your team is safe, as well as understand what the impact will be for them in terms of supply disruptions. When you tell your story from the heart, they will likely be empathetic with your challenges too.

The current weeks have shown just how quickly things can move from relative calm to shut schools, and borders. Leaders have been monitoring the situation closely and considering the context prior to posting. This may require multiple updates on the situation just to keep all your stakeholders in the loop and quell concerns.

As a result of this time pressure, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of bureaucracy too. They know that overly managing communications can be damaging when each day brings significant new information to light. They will have a small trusted team of communicators around them, who feel empowered to make the right tactical decisions when needed.

Flexible communicators

These have challenging times whatever industry you have been operating in.

We have great admiration for our clients who have been showing communication leadership despite the technical hurdles they have been met with in these past weeks. Their agile and flexible approach to take on new communication tools has been inspiring. Like all of us, due to the strict social restrictions in place, they are having to limit face to face presentations. They are instead communicating via less traditional routes, including online conferencing and social media. Many have been using the benefits of video to engage with their audience and tell their story from the heart. The brevity of a great video message has ensured that their central message has not been missed.

Rising up to the challenge

We have all had to adapt our ways of working and ways of life these past weeks. But this has been made easier when leaders are there to offer honest, and empathetic explanation, and clarity. While remaining realistic, they have portrayed resilience and optimism in the knowledge that there will be brighter times ahead.

For as the Chinese response illustrates, we will get through these challenging times. But we need to do it together, even if that paradoxically means going into isolation.

 

Strategy Marketing Communications