Tucker/Hall Coronavirus Insights: Setting the Right Tone
In the current atmosphere of widespread uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations that fare best and come out intact on the other side will be those that can strike the right tone while focusing on what is most important – to employees, to vendors and to customers. But often, as business leaders are learning daily, the situation also requires facing hard questions for which there are no easy or concrete answers.
Knowing this, smart business organizations have already planned ahead – creating crisis teams, designating spokespersons and training those who will speak for the organization. Those organizations know that too much is at stake during a real crisis to also try and educate frontline team members and expect them to optimally perform.
Yet, experience teaches that far too many companies tempt fate by ignoring pragmatic advice. The Institute for Crisis Management has reported that when 1,500 corporations, nonprofits and government agencies were surveyed about their preparedness to deal with a crisis, 76 precent had no formal crisis management plan, 72 percent had no designated Crisis Response Team and nearly 60 percent had never conducted training for those on the front line dealing with a crisis situation.
In this atmosphere, those who are unprepared may find themselves not only dealing with the immediate pandemic but also with long-term reputation management issues later.
The Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted several crisis communication best-practices that bear reiterating and immediately put in place: 1) Create a Crisis Team, if it’s not already in place; 2) Prioritize communication needs of your employees; 3) Communicate regularly with Customers.
Build Your Crisis Team
Goal: Business continuity. This small handful should coordinate and centralize all communication while setting the right tone with employees, vendors, customers – all stakeholders. State local and federal government entities have all designated such teams and businesses need to do them same. Universities, school districts, businesses small and large are all now aware of the importance of such designated voices.
Prioritize Employee Needs
Goal: They’re your ambassadors. Keep them informed. Use employee communications to put people’s minds at ease. Workers need answers in during adverse times that demystify their individual situations related to benefits, insurance, wages, etc. Many studies have shown that steady leadership sets the right tone for all and is a potent antidote helping to reduce employee anxiety. So, over-communicate with employees. During a crisis if your employees are not regularly informed, they can’t function as your most effective ambassadors to the community at large.
Outreach to Customers
Goal: Stress empathy and think like a consumer. As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, several companies have rethought how they do business to be of greater service to consumers. The airlines have waived cancellation and change fees. Walgreens, CVS and others have eased or waived early-refills on prescription drugs. Walmart, Target and several other ‘big-box’ grocery retailers have added enhanced deep-cleaning protocols that signal to consumers that it’s safe to do essential grocery shopping.
The COVID-19 crisis and those that doubtless will follow require a combination of steady leadership, plus factual and updated information that is regularly shared with employees, vendors, customers and the public.
Those businesses and organizations that follow such crisis communication fundamentals in their response to the current national health pandemic will almost certainly come out the other end of it stronger, reputationally intact and with their long-term fundamentals tested but still firmly in place.