With the impact of Covid-19 already significant but far from the end. Organizations now find it tough to be certain of many things. Revenue streams may be compromised while job security a mirage. In America, 45.4 million people have filed for unemployment since the 14th of March, not even during the Great Recession did unemployment numbers come close to this figure. A multitude of complexities stewed in varying permutations, this pandemic is arguably the greatest challenge organizations have ever faced.
In lieu of the obstacles that await them or even hurdles that they are currently experiencing, business leaders are understandably worried about the economic ramifications for their organizations. What steps can they take to stem the bleeding. What can leaders tell their staff during this crisis? Should leaders even engage them?
Well yes, acknowledging the uncertainty surrounding the organization is a crucial step that they must take. In uncertain times, people are desperate for clarity especially from their leaders. It is incumbent for the management to do so, to be as clear as they possibly can about future plans. Many companies have shied away from this and chosen to remain tight-lipped for fear of either appearing overly optimistic or hyperbolically pessimistic. But internally, organizations should be as transparent as possible, their workers are fearing for their livelihoods, thus every opportunity for engagement should be taken. Being silent is no longer an option for companies, it is time for leaders to show their mettle.
According to crisis management plans, providing clarity during a crisis is one of the main factors that will help people get through one. Clarity helps to settle nerves, it assuages fears, that there is a plan to combat the crisis. Clarity puts minds at ease, by sending out a coherent message to the masses. Doing so, demonstrating that you are a competent leader that encourages their people to adopt a calm and methodical approach to whatever happens next.
Control the Narrative
It is crucial for organizations to control the narrative, there will not be a perfect time to communicate where you have all the requisite facts, but it is important to simply communicate. Let your staff know that you hear their concerns and solutions are being formulated. The way forward is to provide frequent communications even if they are shorter ones, people just want to hear from their leaders! They need to provide information of what they know and fill in the details later.
This is not to say organizations should have communications where they effectively say nothing. This will have the opposite effect that will most likely give the impression that the leadership are clueless. It is about giving consistent updates where people can expect to hear more news at a given time for example on a weekly basis. Remember that as an employer, your employees' well-being are under your purview and it is your obligation to safeguard them.
Organizations need to work to establish communication channels such as video conferencing with specific departments. An effective medium that allows the message to be effectively conveyed. A cold corporate email is unlikely to do much for morale. But any form of communication is better than none.
The alternative of a lack of top-down communication is that people will look to fill that void with misinformation and assumptions. People will develop their own narrative, based entirely on their own perception of events. It may seem frivolous but spreading of such misinformation can have dire consequences which is evident with the recent rise of fake news. Do not give people a chance to speculate. Give people frequent and consistent updates even if they are short and simple. People want to see and hear from the people in power.
The element of trust
In a time of crisis, trust is a pillar of support that is heavily relied upon. Organizations have to develop and maintain the trust of their employees. They need to know that their management is being productive and hears their concerns. However, trust only begins with transparency, telling them what you know and even what you don't.
The worst thing a leader can do is to remain silent while anarchy ensues all around them. They need to be decisive and clear in their communications, it is all about radiating an authoritative presence that looks to calm the tensions amongst your people. Successful leaders do this. When you release information first-hand, you control the narrative, the emotions, you get to dictate how your workers will feel when they read such information.
Face-to Face communications
These communications should also be delivered in person as much as possible. Written communications lack the same verve that in-person delivery possesses. People need to be able to feel the sincerity and clarity of the message, you need to emotionally connect with your audience. Remember, you are doing this to update the troops, to reassure them that the management team do indeed have a plan moving forward.
However, in person communication may be impossible due to the pandemic, that is still not an excuse. Face to face communication is the next best thing, video conferencing would have to suffice, all employees need is to see your face and sincerity in order for the message to be effectively translated. Management teams can have video conferences with different departments where they have open dialogues. Such an arrangement would undoubtedly provide a measure of clarity and also improve morale
Employees know that these are uncertain times for all, even those in charge, they do not expect their leaders to have an answer for everything, but simply to be made aware of the steps that are being taken to address the issues. There are a few things that Organizations can be clear about: being clear about the direction ahead, being clear about how the organization can support the employees, being clear about the boundaries and how the future scope of their work could look like.
These are all details that employees would appreciate hearing about. Honest conversations need to be had to address such issues. These are troubling times for us all, a little clarity and honesty goes a long way.