Communicating in a Crisis

When a crisis hits your business, it really helps if you’ve made plans for what you might do in such a situation. In usual circumstances, for isolated crises such as supply chain interruptions or IT problems, this is standard stuff. For now, however, let’s just assume that your business hadn’t prepared for a virus pandemic and global shutdown, and move on to the best ways of navigating the turmoil.

Aside from the various internal procedures that all businesses are having to address – cash flow, forecasts, furloughs, safe working practices etc – the most fundamental and effective action you can take in this situation is to maintain clear communications with everyone that is important to your business.

It’s essential to keep your stakeholders – be they staff, customers, suppliers or investors – informed of your strategies and actions as things unfold. In a fast-moving situation like the COVID-19 crisis, where government measures, social restrictions, medical recommendations and financial support arrangements change on a weekly, if not daily basis, it’s even more important to maintain those communication links.

Keeping them informed of your plans and actions in a clear and timely manner will demonstrate that you are active, in control and thinking ahead. You’re also considerate of their situation, and understanding of the potential implications on their lives and businesses. It will also keep you at the forefront of their minds, which is no bad thing.

Maybe you’re making changes to your business model – temporarily or otherwise – to better cope with the situation. Perhaps you’re taking the opportunity to improve internal processes, overhaul equipment or engage in staff training to ensure your business emerges from the crisis in a stronger position.

Whatever measures you’re taking, your thinking should be made clear. This will reinforce your stakeholders’ feeling of engagement with your business and their confidence in you as an organisation, and it will help to assure them that you see the situation from their point of view. Make it clear that you understand their concerns and allay them wherever possible. It’s important to be open, to share pertinent information as soon as it becomes known. Your information may help your stakeholders to mitigate potential risks to them, or to make alternative plans.

Depending on where you are and what furlough arrangements are available to you, you may have to take drastic, last-resort action – such as laying off staff – to maximise the chances of your business surviving. If your business does survive, you will remain a potential employer. If it fails, you never will. If you need to take action that some may find unpalatable, you should explain why this was necessary for the business.

In all communications, it’s essential to be direct and clear. Language that appears woolly or muddled, or which seems to hide the truth, will have a negative effect. Be honest, be empathetic, be human. Doing so will give you the best chance to weather the storm and come out of it ready to face the future.

Lee Baldock

(Photo by Lee Junda on Unsplash)

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