How can you be sure to offer supportive and open communication to employees while experiencing daily changes in messaging from governments, leadership and the media? And as employees are working from home, what adaptations should we make to our communication strategies?
Find below some of the tips shared by Andrew Wright, who has a 30-year career in the media and communications industry that provided him with experiences ranging from managing media interviews, negotiating complex contracts, presenting live broadcast radio and television programmes including news, entertainment and current affairs.
When to communicate in a crisis
- It is important to respond quickly to a crisis. This helps avoid gossip or assumptions and also garners respect that you or the organisation are seen to be doing something about the situation.
- Be factual in what has happened and stick only to what is known.
- Offer guidance as to how to move forward in the situation and if necessary, who to come to for help and support.
- It is important you instil hope and paint a picture of life after the crisis and also demonstrate that as much as possible, there is control over the situation.
- It is important to envision the future and what the company is trying to achieve. It may be hard to stick to the vision before the crisis started, but reasserting company values, its mission (both of which probably have not changed in the crisis) and outlining the vision is important.
- Even is the crisis is creating a lot of unknown situations, it is important to have a vision of where you are heading as a company.
- During a crisis, it is important that we are good listeners as well as good communicators.
- Don’t judge people and read their emotions as well as their words
- Be helpful in your reply, offer solutions or agreed next steps.
- The most important things is to be honest. This might make some people fearful that it will cause panic. However, using the SCAR or STAR model (Situation – Challenge or Task – Action – Result: define the situation, identify the challenge or task and put in the actions to see the results), you can give context to the situation, highlight the challenge and offer a solution or proposed next steps.
- Always prepare beforehand for possible questions, especially difficult ones.
- Remember that different cultural attitudes accept messages in different ways. For example, some people prefer clear directives, whilst others might prefer guidance. Even with the latter, clear explanation of why it is important and what is expected of your employees will help ensure those guidelines are adhered to.
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Frequency of communication
- At the start of the crisis, aim to be quick and communicative.
- Have regularly team meetings, without having too much information disseminated and stick to the facts.
- As the crisis starts to settle, you can reduce the meetings.
Mode of communication
- Depending on company policy and history of communications, you might find email works best as there is then a record of the communication. However, when delivering a visionary message or an important message, for example, from the CEO, video messaging (whether live or recorded) helps bring a personal and sincere touch to the communication.
- Groups of employees might have private chat groups and we cannot control the communications on there. However, we are consistent with our messages, stick to the facts, the message will get through. Talk individually to anyone that is particularly resistant to the communication.
How we present ourselves
Even when we are working virtually, we can still affect how communications come across in our body language and tonality. When communicating by email or video, consider the following:
- Video: light, posture, tone of voice, how you are dressed, eye contact
- Email: use short, clear sentences, make it clear why you are communicating and what will happen
In both examples, be solution-focused.
- Crises are best dealt with quickly in terms of communications.
- If your company was slow to react to a crisis, ensure a vision and clear communication is put in place as soon as possible.
- Explain honestly the issue(s); it is surprising how understanding employees will be if they are included in the situation and asked to be part of the project to get through it.