Before I settled on client-marketing, I had a couple of Communications roles which were all about helping people through times of uncertainty and change. The world is in a time of huge change at the moment – there is a cloud hanging over us and we aren’t too sure what lies ahead. Effective communication is vital.
The whole point of these types of communications is to:
- bring your people (staff, clients, network) along with you;
- save them worry and anxiety;
- and stop rumours which could be damaging and take time to counter.
Whether you’re a sole trader, owner or Director of an SME, or leader in another sense, I hope you find below a useful guide on how to set up and maintain effective communications at times of change.
1. Communicate regularly.
Whether this is daily, every other day, weekly or fortnightly, choose a timescale that works for the situation.
Set that timescale and stick to it – unless something urgent comes up then communicate as soon as possible.
This is crucial as people will be reassured knowing that they are going to get the ‘official line’ and it also helps stop gossip and rumours getting legs – when the official line is coming regularly, rumours have less time to gain ground.
2. Be honest.
Tell people facts. Tell them what you are planning on doing and the information this is based on. Tell them if you don’t know what is happening but reassure them by telling them that you are looking into it and when you hope to have an answer by.
Honesty builds trust and respect and keeps people calm. If they feel they are being kept in the dark or lied to, they get disgruntled or anxious or stroppy. None of these emotions help your organisation get through change.
3. Be clear.
Really clear. Like, talking to a 9 year old clear. Use short sentences, stick to the point, repeat key points if you are delivering your communications orally.
In times of uncertainty and change because people are more stressed and concerned, this can impact how well we take in messages. Respect this and be clear.
4. Be concerted with other leaders in your organisation.
Different leaders saying different versions is not helpful. It leads to mistrust and confusion. If you have multiple leaders in an organisation, make sure you meet regularly and agree ‘the line’ to take. People will notice any cracks or differences in what you are saying and this leads to mistrust and fear.
5. Put one person in charge of Communications.
Ideally, put one person in charge of Communications – this doesn’t necessarily mean they do the communicating. If you are a Director or Owner of an organisation, you need to be focusing on steering the business through these tricky waters – get a trusted person to sort out communications.
This Communications Person should be finding out the latest updates on a situation, what your people are talking about and worrying about, and they liaise with your organisation’s leaders to get the latest from them. Then they formulate suggestions for what to say / write/ when and how to communicate the message.
Your Communications person has to be trusted, reliable, and able to see and understand all sides of the story.
6. Accept there will be consequences if you don’t communicate clearly.
In times of uncertainty and change, people seek certainty. And if they can’t find it from official and trusted sources, they look elsewhere for information – leads to speculation, gossip, and even more worries and concerns.
It also means you will have to spend time reassuring people, countering misinformation, and tracking down sources of gossip and misinformation to ask them to stop. Is that really how you want to spend your time?
This US Senator in Kentucky seems to have nailed the idea of communications at a time of change. Do read about his approach.
Communications – what’s relevant for my business during the Covid-19 crisis?
So, all this is great but how is it relevant to your business and especially at this time (March 2020)? Here are some pointers to get you started – contact me if you want to discuss your specific business.
If you have staff, no matter how few, think about what they need to know, how often and in what way.
My advice for small to medium sized businesses is:
- consider all of the above points.
- set aside three slots a week to communicate ‘the latest’ to your teams – Monday morning, Weds afternoon, Friday afternoon.
- give your staff the latest with regards to working practices (come in; stay at home) and how it is impacting the business. This is CRUCIAL. If you don’t tell your staff how it’s impacting the business, they will talk amongst themselves and find out via rumour. Control it. Tell them first and tell them facts as well as uncertainties.
- put one Team Member in charge of monitoring official communications and to alert you if anything happens which impacts your business e.g. Government says UK on full lock down. Aim to quickly be able to formulate a response and tell your staff what this latest development means means for them and the business within an hour of the official announcement. Be honest – if you are still working through it, say that and tell them when you will come back to them with an answer.
The best approach is highly dependent on your client base but some general rules are:
- take some time to think about how this is going to affect your relationship with them.
- provide reassurance messages – tell them what you and your team are doing to minimise the risks of infection, keep meeting your service levels etc.
practical messages – let them know how to access your services, your products, what you can and will offer at this time.
- commercial implications – be honest about refunds, having to postpone work, having to cancel work, being out of stock etc.
- tell them how to find out more – give out a phone number, email address, or if you have a small client base make sure you contact your clients directly to discuss the situation, how it could impact their relationship with your business, and what you can do about it.
- stay in touch – update them regularly (pick a suitable time frame).
About the author
Kara Stanford is an award-winning Strategic Marketing Consultant at KMS Marketing, Hampshire, UK.