"Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing." - Rollo May
Particularly when a change in circumstances occurs, such as the Covid-19 crisis, a timely and all-inclusive communication strategy is essential to ensure that employee perceptions of leadership credibility remain high.
Quality communication at this junction will have a lasting impact on an organisational culture built on trust, a factor which will aid in the formulation of new ideas, new ways of thinking, and a collective spirit in adapting to change, now and in the future.
The good news is that the fundamental tools of effective communication still work. Define and point to long-term goals, listen to and understand your stakeholders, and create openings for dialogue. Be proactive. But do not stop there. In this crisis leaders can draw on a wealth of research, precedent, and experience to build organisational resilience through an extended period of uncertainty, and even turn a crisis into a catalyst for positive change.
Superior crisis communicators tend to do five things well:
1. Give people what they need when they need it
People’s information needs evolve in a crisis. So should a good communicator’s messaging. Different forms of information can help listeners to stay safe, cope mentally, and connect to a deeper sense of purpose and stability.
2. Communicate clearly, simply, frequently
A crisis limits people’s capacity to absorb information in the early days. Focus on keeping listeners safe and healthy. Then repeat, repeat, repeat.
3. Choose candour over charisma
Trust is never more important than in a crisis. Leaders trying to help employees adjust after trauma need a reservoir of trust. Those who fail to build trust quickly in crisis lose their employees’ confidence. People expect credible and relevant information; when stakeholders believe they are being misled or that risks are being downplayed, they lose confidence. To build trust, leaders should focus on facts, be transparent, demonstrate vulnerability, involve their audience and mind what they model (Say what you do AND do what you say)
4. Revitalize resilience
As the health crisis metastasizes into an economic crisis, accentuate the positive and strengthen communal bonds to restore confidence.
5. Distil meaning from chaos
The crisis will end. Help people make sense of all that has happened. Establish a clear vision, or mantra, for how the organisation and its people will emerge. Relying on these practices, will help carry your organisation through the pandemic with a renewed sense of purpose and trust.
Listen! Communication is a two-way street
The COVID-19 pandemic places us in extraordinary times. While this is not the first global crisis that organisations have faced, the nature of this uncertainty is different. It involves health and wellbeing; it is far more personal and far less predictable. This is a time when compassion and careful listening are at their most necessary. In times of crisis, employees want to be heard.
Surveys provide the opportunity to learn about their concerns and about their concerns, to show that the leadership cares about their well-being and that you want to understand how to help reduce anxiety and build trust. This is a highly uncertain time, but it is not the time to stop listening to your employees. In fact, quite the opposite. During times of uncertainty and challenge, it is critical to understand what your employees are experiencing—perhaps even more important than ever before.