When a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic happens, the first obstacle businesses need to navigate is panic. Panic leads to fear. Fears about cancelled projects lead to fears about inconsistent cashflow, which lead to fears about consistent bills, which leads to fears about redundancies, which leads to a temporary questioning of whether this pandemic is even real or not, which only leads to more fear and more panic. It’s a tough circle to be stuck in, and to escape it, decisions need to be made.
The focus of any business when a crisis like this occurs is to address the immediate business concerns that affect the survival of its operations. Those that make good decisions quickly are those that survive. Those that make good decisions slowly, or bad decisions quickly put themselves at risk. The pandemic initially was an immediate shock, social distancing restrictions meant that the physical landscape of our communities shifted overnight. However, the effect it is having on businesses ebbs and flows. As this crisis continues to unfold it is likely that businesses are going to be addressing immediate concerns constantly, the rate of these concerns occurring hopefully is decreasing as the months roll on.
When it comes to decision making, we want businesses to make good decisions quickly. And an important part of making good decisions quickly is ensuring you communicate these decisions to relevant stakeholders effectively. If you don’t, there are unnecessary risks and costs involved. Subway has since apologised after one of its stores offered free masks to customers that bought two or more sandwiches. A decision that was highly insensitive when healthcare organisations were struggling to acquire these for essential frontline workers. In addition, many companies are being accused of virtue signalling and using the crisis opportunistically. This is not only costing them money; it’s also incurring unnecessary damage to their brand. You need to take the time to understand how you are going to make decisions effectively during these unusual times. Here are few ways you can ensure that your organisation communicates decisions effectively and efficiently during times of panic.
Lean on your core values.
The survival of your business isn’t just about the survival of profits, it’s about the survival of what your company values and how you continue to add that value in the marketplace. There is nothing wrong with making decisions that make good business sense. You want to make decisions that keep your organisation afloat. And a business that is successful and worth keeping afloat is one that adds real value to its customers and its stakeholders. As you make decisions to keep the company afloat consider how they support your company values. If they don’t directly support these values, you might want to consider whether it’s the best decision to make. Risking the integrity of your organisation during times of crisis might be more of a gamble than you think!
An immediate concern that should always be addressed is whether your stakeholders trust your organisation. In times of uncertainty, loyal employees and loyal customers have the opportunity to become controlled variables in a world of uncontrolled variables. When you make decisions, take the time to explain why you have made that decision. Showing how you came to the conclusion communicates transparency and clarity. It leaves yourself open for criticism, but it also invites your stakeholders into the process and asks them to not just trust the decision, but also trust the process that lead to the decision. To be clear, not all decisions need constant justification, however choosing when to ‘explain why’ can give you the opportunity to build trust with stakeholders when you need it the most.
Right person, right channel:
Once you’ve made a decision and decided why you’ve made that decision, it is important you get the right person to communicate it through the right medium. Ensuring you have the right person communicating is crucial. This person should be trained to answer any questions on the subject and reflect the right level of leadership for the decision they are communicating. They should also feel comfortable and have experience communicating through the ideal channel. COVID-19 has forced communication channels to shift dramatically to online based platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These platforms are allowing some people to keep their jobs, while for others these platforms are how they are being informed of their unemployment. It’s important that you maintain a similar level of professionalism even though you might be communicating through these new channels. For more on how to present-from-home effectively click here.
Communicating to build trust is a two-way process. Once the right person has explained why you’ve made a decision through the right channel, it’s time to listen. Encouraging two-way communication is an important part of a strategic communication plan during a crisis. Insights, questions or concerns raised by your stakeholders can be used to improve decisions made or provide more useful information for future decisions. Be clear once you’ve communicated decisions the ways in which stakeholders can give their perspective and thoughts. Online Townhalls or Virtual Q&A’s can be great tools organisations use to listen to their employees or specific customers. We’ve put together a white paper on the topic which you can find here. In uncertain times, trust is a rare and valuable commodity. As you go about addressing the multiple concerns this pandemic has thrown your way, consider how you communicate these decisions in a way that demonstrates transparency, clarity and authenticity and inspires trust amongst your key stakeholders.