COVID-19: Communication in times of uncertainty
April 7, 2020 | By Heidi Rawson, Vitil People Solutions
There is no time like the present to discuss how important communication is at times of uncertainty. Communication is the key to not just surviving but thriving through a crisis. The situation we are currently in, demonstrates this to be true.
Poor communication can be damaging. We have all seen social media versions of the facts, the confusion and the anxiety that misinformation can create. Last week it was publicised by the media that physiotherapists were to be temporarily shut down along with a number of other businesses ... the facts however stated that Physiotherapists were excluded from the shut-down. This no doubt will have impacted many physio practices in an adverse way.
The Australian government is providing regular updates via the government websites and have now created a Coronavirus App to ensure we are all accessing credible information directly from the source.
The antidote to misinformation is for Perth business leaders to communicate credible information consistently, clearly, courteously and calmly. If you communicate in this way it will lead to connection. However, lack of communication will lead to chaos and continued uncertainty.
An organisation I have been working with recently, stood out as exemplary in their response to COVID-19:
- Updates were released three times a week based on the latest information to inform their team and community of any changes
- They clearly communicated to all stakeholders how they were responding to these new changes
- The organisation collaborated with the leadership team to put together a continuity plan, a fluid document that outlined the plan to strategically respond to the current situation as well as adapt to any changes that could arise
- The COVID response team delegated roles to absorb the common queries from the community to ensure the rest of the team could focus on their core business
- As a result of this proactive, well communicated response to this unprecedented situation, the team felt valued and the business leaders felt prepared to face whatever came their way
Paul Argenti is Professor of Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He recently wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review in response to COVID19. An extract is below.
Step 1: Create a Team for Centralised Communication
If you have the resources available Paul Argenti who is Professor of Corporate Communication at Dartmouth college School of business, ideally you would include a member of the leadership team, a communications expert, an HR executive, and an expert in the area of concern. This team should:
- Meet regularly to monitor the situation closely as it continues to evolve
- Be the main source of information about the crisis
- Give regular updates to key constituencies
- Be as transparent as possible. Explain what you know, what you don’t know, and your sources of information
- Be succinct. Long turgid messages written by health professionals or lawyers will not be read or easily understood
Step 2: Communicate with Employees
Employees are your most important constituency and function as ambassadors to the community. If they aren’t informed and don’t understand what is going on, communications outside of the organisation will be more difficult. The company needs to demystify the situation for employees, put everyone’s mind at ease, and provide hope for the future.
Studies have shown that leaders, in particular, have a special role reducing employee anxiety. In my study of crisis communication after 9/11, many employees described how important it was to hear the voice of the leader, whether live or through email, phone messages, or social media. When the coronavirus crisis hit the Tuck School, the MBA program leadership team camped out in a central location to ease everyone’s anxiety and provide updates regularly.
To communicate with employees, organisations should:
- Post information regularly in a highly visible location. This can be a physical location or virtual – email, the company intranet, or a Slack or Facebook channel
- Describe how decisions were made about issues such as travel, working from home, etc
- Communicate no less than every other day
- Try to provide timely information rather than waiting until you know all of the answers
Read the full article.
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