These are unprecedented times. There is no step-by-step communication handbook for how to guide your workforce and support your business through a crisis like this. The good news is that core principles of effective communication still stand the test. That said, below are the essential elements for how to best apply effective communications in the new #NowofWork. Added bonus: I’ve included a few personal favorite resources in the hope it will help fuel your digital communication strategy execution.
The paramount need for thoughtful and well-executed communication really struck a chord with me after watching the Daily Digital Dose hosted by Jason Averbook, featuring thought leader Tim Sackett. Now, more than ever, businesses need a strong communication plan. But how? It’s pretty straightforward: the core of effective communication, especially during times of uncertainty, is based on trust & credibility.
If your attention span is fleeting, at the very least power through and read the quick paragraphs below exploring how the core principles of trust & credibility translate into execution tactics for a strong communication plan.
Trust and Credibility
Communication is more than words. Said best by Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It's not what you say or how you say it but a combination of both what/how and the actions that follow. Your goal, especially during uncertain times, is to build and maintain trust among the workforce.
Frequent and concise communications designed for their benefit will establish confidence and credibility in your message. Employees, management and customers will remember how you made them feel long after they have forgotten the details of the message itself or the activities that transpired.
How to do this:
Build Trust = Be timely and transparent. Your first communication is to address the need (e.g. working from home). Alleviate immediate questions and address what’s top of mind. From here, empathize with the known (and unknown) challenges, show recognition and offer compassion.
Command Credibility = Be deliberate in how you are taking action. Once you have humanized the situation, it is critical to share a clear response for how your solution will be executed. And finally, demonstrate immediate follow-up with a clear plan including expectations, available resources, and avenues for support.
Once these tactics of trust & credibility are established, you have laid the foundation for effective communication. As cited by well-known risk practitioners Lundren and McMakin, you will often find these two foundational principles are demonstrated through a few attributes: empathy & authenticity, capability & caliber, and commitment & desire for better.
You’ve made it this far: the good stuff is yet to come! Keep going to uncover how these core concepts, which are often considered leadership traits, embolden trust & credibility in all aspects of your digital communication plan.
Empathy and Authenticity
Reconsider your workforce not as people hired to deliver profits but as individuals who join you in your mission for a positive impact on the world. The individuals who make up your workforce are more than employees; they are multi-faceted humans with unique, individual stories. Communicating with genuine interest and awareness of your employee’s whole self, while staying authentic to your company brand, is the ultimate balancing act.
How to do this:
Demonstrate Empathy = Create targeted, personal communications. Leverage your existing communication channels/cascades as much as possible, and only add new ones where necessary. Encourage managers to have consistent check-ins with direct reports. Consider adding time at the beginning of meetings to ask how people are doing. Build pulse surveys to stay tuned-in and give individual recognition for contributions and engagement. This becomes especially important when teams are fully remote.
Be Authentic = Stay true to your brand. While it is important to meet your people where they are individually, it is just as important to create consistent, universal, and relevant experiences rooted in your company’s established brand and culture. Stay true to the core of your business mission, vision, and company history: you want your workforce to still feel a part of your culture, even if they are not physically in the office.
Capability and Caliber
First things first: your people need to know you are capable of supporting them through this crisis. Once they have confidence the company can meet their basic needs, they will reciprocate and do their part to take care of business. Communicating how the business is equipped to evolve during significant times of change, while also being transparent where opportunities to grow exist, will build assurance and conviction that new business practices are good business decisions.
How to do this:
Show Capability = Look to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It is imperative that you communicate the ability to support needs for survival and security before sending communications to spark empowerment and inspiration. Solving basic needs must come before employees embrace change and thrive in a new work environment.
Portray Caliber = Create an engaging employee experience. Now more than ever, strive to create an experience that makes your people feel valued and keeps them coming back for more. An employee’s experience is a collection of many factors. I think it was described best by EX guru Mark Levey, “EX is all about making the shift from talking ‘to’ to your employees to talking ‘with’ your employees.” When it comes to your digital communications, create a consumer-grade EX, leveraging effective features like notifications, mobile design, and integrated cross-platform workflows.
Commitment and Desire for Better
The current humanitarian crisis will pass. Meanwhile, communicating that you are committed to employees’ and the business' immediate, short, and long-term success must prevail. Communicate how the impacts of this pandemic will force the company to advance, to think bigger and better, to shift priorities, and to make hard decisions. When your people are aware that your intentions are good and your commitment is strong, they are more likely to actively lean in and deliver their best work.
How to do this:
Affirm Commitment = Build reassurance in business decisions - let’s be real. In many ways, the perception of how you respond to this crisis is more important than your action. Above all, be transparent and human-centric in your response. Be so bold as to provide your leadership’s decision rubric for advancing and changing business decisions. Set realistic expectations that the current status will evolve. Show vulnerability for the uncertainty of the future while striking a balance with conviction in the commitment to maintain control and do what’s best by your people.
Foster a Desire for Better = Create opportunities for active, continuous listening AAAAND sharing. Consider new ways to collect ongoing and real-time feedback. Be sure to follow up and make people feel heard. Finally, share what actions are considered as a result. It is also important to create opportunities for people to share how they are contributing. Out of office does not have to mean out of mind! Give people a platform to shine, build collaboration, and do their best work.
No doubt the challenge is real and like no other. The benefits of leading with an effective communication plan will not only stabilize your workforce in these unstable times but strengthen and empower your employees to thrive in the #NowofWork. Checklist your communication tactics to meet these altruistic standards, and you can expect a well-received and impactful response during these moments of crisis and beyond.