Communication is the most vital action item you should be focusing on right now. As a nation, we are tuned in more than ever, seeking out daily updates from our local and national government on the health of our community and the guidelines they recommend to stay safe. We can also all relate to the feelings of frustration and anxiety spurred by the mixed messaging from the CDC, local government officials, and the White House. While we may not have control over the virus or the regulatory precautions placed on your business or industry, we can control HOW and WHAT we are consistently communicating right now.
When communication is done well, it helps manage expectations and fears, making it more likely that your key stakeholders (your employees, customers, vendors, etc.) will continue to support you and your business through this uncertain time. When it is done poorly, it can undermine trust and damage the important relationships that you have worked so hard to build up. During this time of crisis, it is important to regularly touch base with your key stakeholders. Hungry for updates and reassurance, there is no such thing as too much communication.
As the world seems to be changing minute-by-minute, your stakeholders expect to have current information about your business available at their fingertips. Here are a few ideas on how to keep them informed:
- Share daily updates with your team: If your team is worried, fears and negative thoughts are keeping them from producing their best work. Whether you have good news or bad news to share, you need to keep them in-the-loop on what is going on and what changes you are making to your business. When it comes to key day-to-day operational changes, consider sending out a daily or weekly morning e-mail that highlights the modifications you are making. When it comes to larger issues that require a dialog or two-way communication, consider having these conversations over the phone or in person.
- Show empathy and understand where your team is coming from: You may have seen the following phrase going around Twitter or LinkedIn: “You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.” Your team is working under the same roof where their dog is barking, their children are playing, and their spouse or roommate may also be working from home and taking phone calls. They are also operating while feeling concerned or anxious about their physical, mental, and financial health. This environment can make communication and productivity more challenging. Adjust your expectations and encourage an open dialog so that you truly understand what your team is going through.
- Make sure your online messaging is current: Your consumers are turning to your online presence for updates on your business. They are wondering if you’re open, if they can do business with you virtually, and if not, what precautions your business is taking to stop the spread. Start by creating a pop-up on your website with a COVID-19 policy that answers these questions. Next, pin the same verbiage to the top of your social media pages so it is the first post your customers see when they view your page. Lastly, send the verbiage out in regularly scheduled social posts and e-blasts to keep your followers informed and engaged.
- True communication is the response you get: The effectiveness of your communication relies on how your audience hears, interprets and responds to your messaging. While you may have good intentions, the meaning of your communication is defined by readers/viewers/listeners who have their own point-of-view on the matter which can be completely independent of yours. It is important to be sensitive to the delicate situation we are all in – a portion of your audience could have just been laid off or furloughed, another portion may have a loved one whose health was impacted by COVID-19. Choose your words wisely.
- There will be pain points – communicate them instead of trying to cover them up: Your customers, vendors and employees understand that this is not “business as usual.” Most businesses are experiencing hiccups in their supply chain, technology glitches, and staffing changes that can result in a slower-moving sales process. To avoid a flood of questions and customer service complaints, be the one that brings these issues to attention. Leverage your online platforms to get the statement across about any delayed lead times or other disruptions that may be occurring in your business. You’ll find a majority of your followers will be sympathetic and appreciative of your transparency.
- Ask for input: The best way to make sure all of your stakeholder’s questions and concerns are answered is to simply ask them what they’d like to know. When it comes to employees or vendors, feel free to send them an informal e-mail or phone call, or send out an internal e-blast to see what their most pressing thoughts are. When it comes to customers and followers, choose the platform you receive the most engagement on, whether it’s through social media or an e-newsletter, and give them the option to submit comments or queries that you can then answer in a formal written post or video.
- Find ways to “double communicate” both verbally and in writing: It is important to be as clear as possible when conveying information to your stakeholders. Double communicating your key points in both a written and verbal format helps to avoid misunderstandings while emphasizing their importance. Follow up information shared during a conference call or video meeting with a written email summary. Consider sharing the same message in a video format as you would a text or blog post online. Your audience may prefer to receive their news in different ways, so providing a variety of formats will ensure you get your message across.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Keep the conversation going. Ease your stakeholder’s fears and worries by consistently providing them with the most up-to-date information that you have. Lead your team through these unprecedented times.
To get you through this difficult time, I am offering a complimentary 30-minute coaching session to help you think through where you are and where you are going. Contact me today for your free strategy session and we’ll work through this together!