Updates about the coronavirus are everywhere, even though much remains unknown. Workplaces are scrambling to gather information and make decisions. Leaders responsible for communicating about coronavirus have a major challenge. Tell your stakeholders what you know in an attempt to stay ahead of miscommunication or wait until you have more facts.
I don’t know of any leader who enjoys being responsible for communication during challenging times. It’s stressful, and it can make or break a leader’s credibility. Most of us try to avoid putting ourselves in such high-stakes circumstances whenever possible. Even experienced leaders question, “Do I have enough information to share now or should I wait until more facts are announced?”
Here’s some good news. Communicating during challenging times can actually be tremendous opportunities for leaders. This occurs when leaders proactively communicate facts while remaining as transparent as possible—meaning that it’s preferable to admit that you just don’t have all the details. Being honest and empathetic while stressing a commitment to learning and communicating more, can assure others of your competence and expertise, all of which are known to gain trust.
While techniques commonly used during crisis communications do not guarantee successful communication, they do position leaders for effectiveness while minimizing the risk associated with waiting for additional details. Consider these aspects as you plan your communications.
Share the Facts
In the absence of information, people tend to fill in gaps with what they think to be true. Resist the temptation to do this, particularly in your communication with others. Share the facts as you know them, and only share facts from reputable sources. Ensure the facts that you’re given from your team are from the most reputable of sources.
Explain What to Expect
Individuals within and outside your organization want to know what they can expect. Share your high-level plans for moving forward and how you plan to handle operations. Also share the specifics of how your plans may impact employees, customers, and the public, if you have this information. Explain that your plans may change as new information becomes available. Let others know how often they can expect to hear from you and then communicate according to the timeline you’ve provided.
Select the Right Person
Credibility is particularly important during challenging times. Your organization’s spokesperson should be the CEO or other high-level executive when possible. The individual should possess the appropriate expertise but also be known for communicating in an authentic, empathetic manner.
Prepare Your Spokesperson
Your leadership team can help prepare your spokesperson. Gather information from your peers and reputable sources and also have your leadership team gather information. Then, vet what is gathered and determine what will be included in your communications. Use your marketing and communications experts to help you decide which channels will be used to share information, considering your stakeholders and culture. Keep in mind that communications of this type are usually not one and done. Plan to start a conversation that you can maintain throughout the crisis. If you need to, put a task force or other temporary team of professionals in place to support you in your communications.
Conversations involve giving others the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. Determine if two-way interactions are appropriate for your organization and if so, make plans to support them. Practice presenting information and have your team and other individuals ask questions to strengthen your communications. If you lack a team, determine if seeking assistance from outside sources may be beneficial to you.
Lastly, think about other instances in which you were responsible for communicating during challenging times. Identify the ways in which you could have communicated more effectively and use this information as you develop your plans.
Challenging times can help strengthen organizations, leaders, and teams. Develop your communication strategy using the aspects described above as you prepare for conversations about coronavirus with your stakeholders.
Tuesday Strong is a coach, consultant, and author at Strong Performance Management, LLC. Learn more here.