Right now, the world is battling the Coronavirus Pandemic. If we’re lucky, we are enjoying some cooking, binge-watching and stay-at-home workouts. If we’re unlucky, we know someone who lost a job, someone who is struggling or someone who left us too soon. Either way, we all find ourselves at the cusp of struggling with the lockdown in its various forms.
Business leaders are steering their way through a disruptive world that has suddenly emerged in the past months. While the best of us are also taken by shock, we find ourselves constantly focussing on the light at the end of the dark tunnel. Why ? Because we find focussing on that light as the best way to direct our energies. And because the glass should always be half full.
Bain & Company polled more than 130 CEOs in India in April 2020. 70% of the CEOs reported that ‘they are balancing communications about what they are doing to protect the business with what they are doing to prepare for the new world’. Global leaders are balancing their communications, within the organisation and outside, about their actions and decisions in this time of crisis.
Communications are directed in largely 3 directions : (i) This is a time of crisis and let’s focus on actions to protect ourselves at the moment; (ii) This is a time to restore calm and balance in the community while also preparing for the Post-Covid world; and (iii) This is a time for recovery where we work towards rebuilding for the new world. Any direction that one might take, the focus primarily lies to create balance and prepare for the Post-Pandemic Era. However, right communication can play a key role in how your stakeholders view your leadership and the organisation in such times of uncertainty.
In a time with restricted modes of communication, this lockdown is digitally-dominated. As a result, internet (especially social media) has become both an indispensable source of information and a fertile ground for rumour-mongering. The WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom, even said “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic”.
Current times are a strong testament to the power of communication – how it can make big waves for an organisation (or a leader) or how it can hurt the sentiments of the involved stakeholders. A well thought of communication strategy can go a long way for an organisation by sensitising the people about actions and efforts taken to deal with the situation. Let’s look at a 3 step strategy.
In times of crisis, it is inevitable that every action however well intended will let down some people. For example, while the top leadership might be in favour of voluntary salary cuts, the lower strata of your employees might view the decision as harsh and insensitive. Organisations that understand and acknowledge this fact will better prepare for the coming times.
Reintroduce yourself to people. Find what makes you stronger and forms the core of your business. Develop a tactful means of communicating your organisations’ vision and mission to your people. Tell them why you exist and remind them of why they trusted you in the first place.
You need to throw away old assumptions and be dramatically different when communicating with the reformed audience. Retool your communication strategy to adapt to the changing times and consumer behaviour. You could go digital if you hadn’t already or you could conduct personal video calls. You could also go the mile and send a basket of fruits to your people, to say the least. Point is that you need to think different. And you need to do it now.
When the world assumes normalcy, people would have already formed opinions and made up their minds. Right now is when you can target them and help them form an opinion in favour of you, well, before it’s too late.
As is the rule of the world, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Apply this to your communication strategy and prepare for either scenario. It’s great if you successfully communicate with your people. But what if you touch a wrong nerve ? Realising that your actions can have a response beyond your power is the first step towards damage control. And realising it before executing your plan is a great way to be prepared for such a situation, should it arise, so as to successfully tackle it.
Keep your Plan B, or as I would call it a ‘Contingency Plan’, ready beforehand. And to do it well, you would need to understand the nature of your people – what ticks them off, what they like, how they perceive things, or what their reaction could be like. A deep understanding of your people, employees or customers, can not only help in developing a right communication strategy in the first place but also in disaster management.
At a time when businesses are shut and the economies are at a halt, communication is your most powerful product or service or even a weapon. You might want to communicate a managerial decision taken for employees or the future course of action for your business. You might want to communicate a CSR initiative taken by your company to your customers or launch of a new product. In any case, the power of communication lies at the nexus of your organisation. It is what will define the success of your business. When people are at home glued to their screens, it is the best time to catch undeviated eyeballs and use them to your advantage.
Simple words can go a long way. You might want to start your next work con-call with a ‘you got this’. Or post on your official social media handle about how your employees are standing with you for your customers to see. Or you might just say ‘We got this, but we will have to take some hard decisions.’ How your actions will be perceived will depend on how you communicate them. Such is the power of words. And communication.
Of course, right now every conversation of yours will begin with a ‘I hope you and your family are keeping well’. Use this moment to shine. And shine you will.