These are uncertain times to say the least. For those who still have jobs, most are working from home. Those who are in essential positions may be working at their company’s worksites with heightened concern for their health and wellness. As long as this Coronavirus crisis continues and these “safer at home” guidelines are in place, we all are living with much more anxiety and stress than usual – without our usual outlets to rest and recharge.
Whose job is it then to keep your team members calm, composed, and focused? I’ve considered new titles like “Chief Engagement Officer” for all the CEOs out there, but the reality is that some CEOs aren’t comfortable or capable playing this vital role. So who is it in your organization? A Business Unit leader? Another senior executive? Maybe your head of HR? Someone needs to assume the position of “Chief Communication Officer” right now if your company is going to be productive and survive this crisis.
I’m not going to let CEOs off the hook just yet though for not being positive role models and engaging their employees directly. Business owners and Presidents/CEOs need to step up during this crisis. Your people need to hear from YOU right now. Not just their direct supervisors or middle-level managers. YOU! Nobody can generate the same positive energy and enthusiasm or settle a workforce like the owner/CEO of a business. More importantly, most of your next-level leaders are less than effective in cascading information from higher-level leadership in the best of times. It’s unreasonable – and quite frankly, unfair – to expect more from them now given everybody’s heightened emotions and anxiety. No matter how good they are, wouldn’t you agree that they aren’t Chief Communication Officer caliber?
Even if you agree, you might still be wondering, “How do I lead my people through this crisis? I’m stressed out and concerned myself, so what am I supposed to say or do to inspire my team and keep them productive right now?” Consider Marriott’s President & CEO Arne Sorenson who demonstrated his authentic leadership in a heartfelt and inspiring video to Marriott’s employees, shareholders, and customers recently. Or perhaps the less known CEOs I support who are producing daily video updates to keep their staff informed or are holding virtual lunches to stay connected with their team members working from home. There are countless examples of great leaders choosing to be in the trenches and on the frontlines themselves in very explicit and visible ways.
As you determine exactly who your Chief Communication Officer is and how best to share inspiring messages and other sensitive updates with your teams, the following approaches can help you enhance the flow of information across your organization.
- Communicate early and communicate often. Also, communicate what you know when you know it. Too many leaders don’t say anything because they don’t have all the answers. Inspiring leaders are over-communicating right now, not holding back. Your people just need to hear from you based on what information is currently available. You can always share additional updates when that information changes.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Just be sure to add, “…but I’ll find out and get back to you by ________,” and then follow through on your promise to do so. In line with the above, you don’t have to know it all to earn the respect and trust of your people. You just have to be genuine and authentic in what you do share and honor your commitment to get back to folks if you can’t answer their questions.
- Keep your message consistent across the organization. To do that, you’ll need to prepare a script of key talking points for yourself and to share with other managers/leaders to reference for their own communications. Remember, your other leaders may be anxious and uncomfortable communicators, so they’re not going to deliver the same message as you unless you give it to them, prepare them in advance, and explain the need to toe the line.
- Deliver your message in person whenever possible. With the proper precautions – hand sanitizer, 6 feet of distance, face masks, etc. – those leaders who are still at work can probably interact with their onsite staff at the beginning or end of the day/shift. If you wear personal protective equipment, be sure your employees have access to this same protective gear for everyone’s safety.
- If you aren’t able to communicate in person, use video from your own office/home to create that face-to-face connection. When producing videos, post them to your company intranet site and email a link to everyone. For those still working onsite in large spaces, factories, or warehouse settings, you can also run your videos on a loop or at regular intervals on TV screens in your break rooms and other employee areas.
- If you want to communicate to all of your employees yourself and at one time, you can also conduct group conference calls. It’s not the same as in person or video, but at least they’ll hear directly from you. To address any concerns and promote greater engagement, consider asking for questions that you can address on the call in advance. If you don’t solicit questions ahead of time, you run the risk of creating an open forum that can quickly get out of control!
Your people need you to be leader-like, especially right now. More than that, they need you to be a great leader right now. If they can’t look to you for inspiration and reassurance, then who?
Talk to them about what’s happening. Tell them how much you value their continued efforts and that they won’t lose their jobs. Or if that isn’t certain, tell them exactly what you’re doing to protect their jobs and how they can help. Tell them what you’re doing to protect them. Tell them about any new protocols you’re implementing to keep them safe. Share your feelings and emotions through these difficult times, and give them a forum – whether direct or perhaps through a new email account like COVID@MyCompany.com – to share their questions and concerns with you. And if necessary, guide them to federal financial assistance programs for additional support.
Put one foot in front of the other every day. Give yourself the breaks you need, let yourself cry, let yourself run away spiritually and emotionally if that’s what you need from time to time. Just remember, those moments will pass, and you can go right back to being the superstar in charge who demonstrates true leadership to his/her team members.
Are you struggling to be a great leader during this Coronavirus crisis? Need someone to help you develop and then execute your employee communications plan? Give us a call at 310.589.4610 or email us for some additional insights on how best to communicate with your team during this difficult time. You can also visit our Executive Coaching page of our website for more on how we regularly support leaders in enhancing their communications and improving performance across their organizations. We will get through this if we work together!