A few months ago, my colleague Leigh Lindsey shared some best practices for communicating during a crisis, but how do you communicate when you don’t fully know your plan of action? What if your plan of action is constantly evolving?
This is what many businesses, school systems and universities are experiencing now with their COVID-19 re-opening plans. But the experience of communicating details when the plan is always changing is a challenge long familiar to executives in many industries — including construction, politics and technology.
Not sure where to start? Here are four suggestions, using the current COVID-19 situation as an example.
Share your uncertainty and thought-making process.
Many of the decisions you make about re-opening your business may be based on factors such as the COVID-19 infection rate, local and national health guidelines, and area school re-openings.
While these factors are clearly outside your business’s control, you still should share updates about where you are in your decision-making process. And that update simply may be that you don’t know your next step.
By saying “we don’t know yet,” explaining why, and outlining possible scenarios and actions you are considering, you demonstrate empathy. You’ll also be showing that you make decisions methodically, not in haste.
Consider and share the perspectives of outside groups.
In addition to your staff, consider who will influence your decisions going forward.
Obviously, local, state and national government guidelines should impact your decision-making, but are there other groups who should play a role? Who are the peer or advocacy groups you should consult or observe, especially if they represent the interests of your staffers, customers, industry partners and other stakeholders?
When these outside groups make updates that impact your decisions, share those plans along with your commentary and next steps related to the work you do. If you’ve established that these outside groups’ decisions will definitely determine your plans going forward, sharing their regular updates will demonstrate your objectivity when you make decisions. This cadence will help provide predictability for your staff.
Survey your staff.
Different scenarios affect your re-opening plan, and they affect your staff first and foremost. So, why not ask them about their preferences based on possible scenarios? The time we’re in has prompted stress and friction. Giving people the opportunity to work through their own thoughts and voice their preferences can help alleviate anxiety and help you make more thoughtful decisions.
Provide responses to new developments.
Lastly, when new developments arise, your staff, customers and stakeholders want to know sooner rather than later how you plan to respond to them. This may mean you have to turn back to the points above – ask your staff for input or be willing to say you’re unsure of your next step. But by acknowledging new developments, you show that you are being attentive to the current situation and you are adjusting plans as needed.
If you’d already considered the possibility of a particular new development, then you’re ahead of the game. Share your pre-planned decision after first looking over it again to make sure there aren’t any aspects of the newest development you hadn’t already thought about addressing.
We understand that communicating effectively and empathetically during a crisis takes thoughtful planning. It may sometimes feel easier or best to not communicate for fear of saying the wrong thing, but proactive and thoughtful communication has been proved time and time again to be effective.
Your staff, customers and other stakeholders are the cornerstone of your business, and so they should also be the cornerstone of your communications plan. The four steps above are ways you can show that you prioritize their well-being and are thinking thoughtfully and creatively about how to run your business going forward.