As the impact of the coronavirus gathers pace, ibd consultant and issues & crisis management specialist Siobhán Lavelle explains how businesses need to communicate with employees, stakeholders, clients and customers through this fast-changing and complex situation.
“I have 25+ years’ experience in issues and crisis management, and I am seeing the entire – and quite normal – crisis response to this situation, often from clients that have never had to cope with a scenario like this. Some leaders are hoping it all just goes away, others are trying to control situations that can’t be controlled, and everyone is feeling a personal and emotional response that potentially clouds judgement and decision making.
As well as practical planning, such as HR and IT considerations, it’s essential to communicate proactively at a time like this. Consider what you need to say now – and plan for what you might need to say in difficult times ahead.
Here are a few essentials to think about:
- Clearly explain expectations and requirements to employees: share public health advice and reassure colleagues on HR processes. Reinforce the importance of working as a team and remind staff and managers that certain individuals will need more support than others, and we all need to be flexible and supportive in a rapidly changing situation. We’re all human, after all.
- Provide clarity for customers and clients on how risks are being managed and the steps being taken to minimise impact to the supply of goods or services. Make sure frontline staff know how to deal with related queries and remember that every staff member is an ambassador for the business. It helps to get ahead and to answer client or customer questions before they ask them.
- Maintain dialogue with supply chains to minimise the disruption: proactive communication, clear points of contact and a mutual understanding of specific challenges should reinforce good working relations and remind everyone that we’re all experiencing similar difficulties.
- Reinforce connections with business networks and local communities: being quietly supportive and responding to other’s needs builds goodwill, a positive reputation and a bank of support for the future. We never know when we might need it.
- Above all, be honest and open: it’s okay to say we don’t have all the answers, especially in a rapidly changing situation. Businesses often have sensitive or confidential aspects of their operations that they don’t want under public scrutiny: with careful consideration, there’s always a truthful and appropriate way to deal with this.
Clear, proactive communication is a powerful tool in any crisis situation: plan now, think ahead and good luck. Above all, stay well.” – Siobhán Lavelle, ibd Consultant
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