Why strong leadership comms are crucial in a crisis

During a crisis, it’s only natural for us to look to our closest and most trusted authority figures for reassurance and direction – our employers.

However, this can place a lot of extra responsibility on business leaders’ shoulders. At this time, employees will not only be looking for clarity about their long-term work and financial situation, but also support and understanding about their families and their own health concerns.

In short, many leaders may find they are suddenly responsible for a lot more than business performance, and the future of their company may depend on it.

However, business leaders can reap great rewards with genuine, regular communications throughout the crisis and beyond. Our Internal Communications Consultant, Emily Cooter, outlines some guiding principles to help business leaders rise to the challenge:

Know your audiences

Think carefully about the impact of Covid-19 on your employees’ work and home lives, and speak directly to their concerns. These concerns will vary of course depending on the subsets of your workforce.

For example, you might have a mixture of frontline essential workers and those working from home in the virtual office. These groups will be experiencing the current crisis very differently, so you’ll need to adjust your positioning in order to make top-line messages relevant and convey appropriate empathy.

Be as visible as possible

Keep comms as close as possible to face-to-face interactions. For example, a short video message is preferable to an all staff email.

Consider options for live broadcast or virtual town hall meetings; prioritise regular video 1-2-1s with your direct reports and strongly encourage them to do the same for the people they manage.

Additionally, if you have frontline essential worker teams, think carefully about how you might safely ‘show up’ for them to demonstrate your support.

Make it personal

Nothing unites people like a common enemy, and right now leaders have a unique opportunity to strengthen relationships and dispel feelings of ‘them and us’.

Even if it’s not your normal style, consider making your messages more human by referring to your own feelings or family situation. For example, mention the challenges of home schooling or your concern for an elderly relative.

Respond swiftly in line with Government directives

As the situation unfolds, you and your business continuity team will be planning ahead and anticipating likely developments – make sure you loop your internal comms people into these discussions. They can then prepare internal messaging in advance so you are able to follow up Government briefings and breaking news as swiftly as possible.

In an ‘always-on’ world, where situations are changing by the hour, speedy communications from the very top of the organisation will reassure employees that you have a handle on things.

Keep communicating

Whatever happens, don’t be tempted to pause communications, especially if you have established a regular channel for crisis comms. Employees left wondering will fill the silence with their own guesswork, leading to mistrust and greater uncertainty.

No one will expect you to have all the answers in these unprecedented times, and it’s ok to admit this. Offer the caveat ‘Based on what we know today…’ at the start of your comms, use holding statements and repeat previous messaging if they still hold true.

Keep two-way communications flowing

No matter how clearly you communicate a company-wide position, there will always be grey areas and exceptions to consider.

Ensure your leadership comms specify how people can ask questions, get advice or make suggestions. This could be as simple as a ‘speak to your line manager’ directive.

Alternatively, there may be a need to set up a HR/wellbeing helpline, particularly if you’re dealing with sensitive contract issues, for example. Publishing an updated FAQ on your intranet is also a good idea.

Efforts to excel at employee communications, and indeed to support employee wellbeing, have never been more important.

Even if you have difficult messages to deliver, being a prolific, open and compassionate communicator through Covid-19 will help to establish your business as an employer that really looked after its people through an unprecedented global crisis. Not a bad reputation to take into the post-Covid-19 world.

This article was first published by FHF London, our sister agency.

Emily Cooter
Internal Communications Consultant