By Jan Gusich // akhia communications
Employees will fill information gaps with their own story–and it won’t be the right one.
COVID-19 is bringing many challenges to businesses. One has been the need to communicate efficiently and effectively with multiple audiences–from employees and customers to suppliers and shareholders on topics that include everything from supply chains and operations to work-from-home policies, safety measures and, in many cases, about the pandemic reaching our own doors.
One thing is certain: For comms professionals, changes will continue to evolve. Each phase of America’s reopen plan will bring new challenges. Planning will be critical. Three areas worth considering now are internal communications, crisis communications and communications around mergers and acquisitions.
Internal Communications: Building Trust Amidst Uncertainty
Though we’ve been talking with employees almost daily, we’re moving into a new phase of employee communication–one that will require extra skill and sensitivity as we begin returning to work. Five minutes on Facebook gives a clear picture of how deeply divided people are about reopening. Some have been protesting for it; others are deeply anxious. Communicators will need to balance instructional communication with sensitivity to employees’ concerns; they will have to straddle fences and build bridges. It will be more important than ever to bring employees together toward common causes, potentially around an organizational rally cry. In all communication, put your organization’s values first.
Work on building a transparent workplace that fosters trust. Even when information is difficult, being honest will have long-term payoffs. Next, focus on employee relationships; they will need help talking about their differences and adapting to a new normal. Communications can play a critical role. Finally, keep your eye on culture–find new ways to cultivate a culture that binds people, bridges differences, and promotes healthy and frequent dialogue and camaraderie.
Crisis Communications: Being Prepared for Anything
Perhaps the most obvious area for attention from COVID-19 is crisis communications. Most organizations have crisis plans. Nearly all need to be dusted off and updated around pandemic communication. Does your organization have a team identified to work through the communications issues that will arise? A policy for employees who contract the virus? A set of procedures to manage such a situation? A trained spokesperson in case the media learns of health issues in your facility? A plan for handling criticism and/or misinformation on social media? A methodology in place to text employees around the world or to track illness at your multiple locations? The list of new things to be added to your crisis plan is extensive and should be given a fitness test by organizational leaders and outside professionals.
Mergers & Acquisitions: Setting up for Success
There’s no question that COVID-19 has impacted corporate bottom lines. As a result, we’re likely to see an uptick in mergers and acquisitions as companies try to save themselves, gobble up competitors or vertically integrate. If any of these could be a potential outcome for your organization, begin planning now. Mergers and acquisitions create angst for employees, customers and suppliers alike. For employees, will duplication of services lead to positions being eliminated? Will their pensions and benefits remain the same? Will future opportunities be erased? Employees will fill information gaps with their own story–and it won’t be the right one. So will customers. What does an acquisition mean for them? Will the customer service rep they’ve counted on for years be replaced? Will pricing change? Will contracts be honored? It’s never too early to create a communications matrix identifying all stakeholders, thinking through their specific concerns and developing messages for each. A merger or acquisition that looks like a financial success but is a communications disaster, can easily lead to failure.
What’s Next: Figuring it out Together
There’s no question that communicators will continue to be challenged over the next months and even years as the pandemic plays out. Planning that includes stakeholder identification, scenario development and messaging will always make us better.
That being said, I’m happy to help talk about these topics and more with you. Let’s dive in and see what specifically we can do to help your organization.
Jan Gusich is the founder of akhia communications and specializes in crisis preparedness and reputation management. She has decades of experience helping companies prepare, respond and prevent crisis situations from escalating. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.