COVID-19 keeps the world in suspense. We are experiencing a situation previously unimaginable. Everyone is part of the crisis. Every company is affected. At Great Place to Work, we want to contribute by doing what we do best: helping organisations maintain the engagement of their employees. In this article, we therefore take a closer look at how you as an organisation can lead by means of crisis communication.
We have talked to Philipp Maderthaner, a communication expert specialized in crisis communication.
How do you experience this crisis?
Many people feel insecure when dealing with a new type of virus that's difficult to assess and is spreading quite rapidly. The measures that are currently needed create the discomfort and anxiety of many. The measures that are currently necessary are also literally tearing us away from our learned carelessness. This is causing a certain unease among many people.
What such situations of uncertainty require is leadership. Because leadership gives stability and security. This applies at all levels, for the country, but also in the companies and yes, even in the family.
Crisis communication is often called the supreme discipline of communication - why?
Communication is one of the most important instruments of leadership, once again in crisis situations. If we have the feeling that someone is taking the lead in a crisis and informs and involves us accordingly, then that gives us enormous security. For those who take the lead here, this is such a challenge because they are naturally under enormous pressure themselves.
Making clear decisions and communicating clearly in such situations is truly a supreme discipline.
For companies, it's not just a question of overcoming the crisis as such, but also the communication required to do so. What would you advise?
I advise entrepreneurs and managers to communicate clearly and closely with all employees. This does not mean that you always must have an answer for everything. Sometimes the answer is simply: We are still thinking about it and do not know. And sometimes the answer is to communicate very clear decisions and steps.
In stormy times, the captain is expected to be visible on the bridge and make regular announcements.
Good crisis communication also requires good crisis management. How are these two related?
Indeed. It starts with recognising one's own responsibility, where one has leadership responsibility. This can be in the company, but also in the club, as an organizer or in the family.
What is unusual about this crisis is that it affects all people and all companies, and that the solution does not lie in the organizations. Insecurity is the not unusual consequence.
How can and should security be conveyed at all?
The solution lies partly in the organisations. By reducing our social contacts in the near future, we can all make a significant, and for older people even lifesaving, contribution to containing the spread of the virus. This requires determined action and clear communication on the part of the companies within the scope of their possibilities.
Employees are insecure. Customers and suppliers too. Rumours are quickly spread; opinions are making the rounds and the social media are also doing their part. Can this be counteracted?
There is very comprehensive information from the government and its agencies. This is the information that one should and can rely on. This communication will certainly be further intensified.
In addition, the media also have a special responsibility. A scary headline may produce clicks, but it is not useful. Here, factual information is required from all sides - from the government, from the media and, of course, from companies.
They say: A crisis always turns out differently than one thinks. How can those responsible in companies deal with the uncertainty? Is it possible to prepare for the unforeseeable?
Of course, you can't prepare for the actual crisis. But: Those companies that have invested in their teams in the past, that have developed a strong culture, that have worked on the quality of leadership, that are strong on the decisive fronts, will come through any crisis well.
Companies that were not healthy even before the crisis are naturally much more at risk.
How can companies strengthen the trust of their employees in the crisis competence of their managers?
The answer is clear decisions and clear communication. No procrastinating, no lagging around, no fiddling around. Nobody knows what is right at this time. We always know later. Now we can only act to the best of our knowledge and conscience.
What can be done in terms of communication to ensure that there is as little personal and operational damage as possible - on the contrary, that people grow out of the crisis?
Of course, the protection of people and health are the top priority. In addition, every crisis also offers an opportunity to grow. I take the company-wide home office at our company as an example. We can now learn how to deal with such situations. Every team member can learn for themselves what their own self-discipline is like - the focus at work.
All these are opportunities to be better off in the end than before. All these are not reasons why one would wish for such a crisis. But making the best of it has never hurt anyone.
CONCLUSION: Communication supports in times of crisis
Crises always trigger uncertainty. The coronavirus and the necessary measures tear all people away from their carelessness. Such situations require leadership and good communication. Companies can strengthen the confidence of their employees in the crisis competence of their managers by making clear decisions and communicating this clearly.
No hesitating, no laughing around, no fiddling around. Nobody knows what is right currently. We always know later. Now we can only act to the best of our knowledge and conscience.