The last couple of months have brought urgent challenges to business leaders, who had to learn how to effectively communicate with their teams with a renewed sense of purpose and trust. During a crisis, employees begin to have a lot of questions and their heads always turn to the company; to their managers and ultimately the company leadership.
“[…] i’m reminded of what it feels
like to have my head alight to
have it catch fire and blaze-lick
high above me and all this
i’m reminded to return to the truth that oh
yeah me my little self a match my little
self a cardboard cutout might could burn
this whole so-called kingdom down” Match by Jason Reynolds
It’s clear that leaders don’t have all the answers. However, during the storm, the most successful leaders communicate clearly, authentically and frequently. From shifting to remote working, to creating advertising campaigns, many companies are sending the message “We Care”, but what is the purpose of this message? These times are demanding a different way of thinking from our leaders, a perspective that is broader than the company. Leaders must think about their decisions in a complex and uncertain future, where exogenous factors such as the pandemic are as destabilizing as internal problems. Leaders that show broad scope of sight and allow several diverse perspectives to be part of the decision-making process, are more likely to get ahead of the recovery curve.
The complexity faced by decision makers has increased between 50% and 350% in the past 15 years according to research by Boston Consulting Group.
A leader’s words and actions have a major impact on the well-being of those they manage. It is important to be a visible face and be within reach more than ever. Employees, during uncertain times, have increased levels of stress and anxiety that can become worse if they feel they are being left in the dark. As a content development and translation company, when we look back a few months to the beginning of the pandemic, we were better prepared than others because of the nature of our business. Most of our work was done remotely even before the pandemic started. The main purpose of Idea’s office space is to feel close to one another, and to have face to face meetings, but most of us were already working from home 1 or 2 days a week and it wasn’t much of a deal if a collaborator requested to work from home. Communications in our industry are well served remotely. So, in the face of uncertainty, what are the fundamental tools of effective communication?
We know that a fundamental part is to create clear and open channels for communication, in order to listen to and understand all stakeholders within the organization, and define what is important and how that aligns to your company goals.
Based on our experience, we have put together a simple list of steps to create an opportunity out of crisis communications.
- Have you taken a moment to think about what your people need (employees, partners, providers, management, etc.)? Maybe when all of this started, they needed to feel supported, they needed information on how to stay safe. Nevertheless, communications now must focus on how to adjust to change, on how to help your people make sense of this crisis’ impact. Deliver the message they need, when they need it.
- Communicate clearly, simply, frequently. It is critical to keep employees informed each step of the way, what you are doing and why you are doing it. By keeping messages simple you are making it easier for people to absorb crucial information. Read your messages out loud to a couple of confidants and ask them what they hear, to make sure your message is clear enough.
Beyond email, what other forms of communication can you leverage to keep employees updated at all times? Creating a social media page just for employees? Hosting weekly meetings? Here at Idea Translations, with the transition to all-remote work, we’ve embraced the weekly Monday morning Zoom meeting as an opportunity to update our teams on the current state of the company, key successes and opportunities over the past week and what each team is working on. Also, it is a way of opening the door to our employees to reach out to the leadership team and express anything they are going through from personal difficulties to work related challenges, and to ask questions.
- Trust is never more important than in a crisis, MAINTAIN TRANSPARENCY. Be honest about where things stand, what is known and what is unknown. Share your own feelings. Scrutiny of leaders’ actions is magnified during a crisis.
- Your brand’s purpose will be put to the test, elevate the positive. It is important to highlight the common social identity and culture of your organization, and for that it is good to create and share moments, to uplift spirits and resilience. Talk about all wins (even the small ones). Don’t leave good actions by your employees without an applause. Help others to have a sense of well-being which can lead to a reduction of stress and anxiety and better results in terms of productivity. Keep team members motivated, remind them of your core values and how these can help your team do great work.
- How to make sense of all that has happened? What will your organization achieve during this crisis? Establish a clear vision, it is important to create a space where others can shape a meaningful story for themselves.
Just like the poem at the beginning, these complex times can have different meanings depending on what was your personal experience. Therefore, open up to many interpretations. This too shall pass, and by rebuilding your organization with an emotional awareness for change, new paths for creating opportunities, and addressing challenges with uncertain information, you will pave the way for long term growth. Even during times of crisis.