Heading a company through COVID-19 has been the ultimate test of leadership during a crisis. As the world adapts and businesses shift from crisis to recovery mode, it’s tempting to slip back into our pre-pandemic ways. The reality is that the health crisis has reshaped the way we live, work, shop, and interact. Add to that the economic and racial equity issues our society is grappling with, and it’s clear that CEOs have never had a greater responsibility or opportunity to lead for the good of their businesses and society.
CEOs face challenging questions when thinking through how to reinvigorate — and even reimagine — their organizations. How do you balance the needs of your various stakeholders as you decide where to invest and how to evolve your products, services, and operations? This balancing act is nothing new for leaders, but this year of crisis has only accelerated the pace of change and the need for action.
The key is for leaders to use a set of principles that will consistently guide their actions and strategies from crisis to recovery and beyond. As you observe other companies’ crisis communication strategies and recovery initiatives, begin to build your own plan to ensure stakeholders at all levels feel in the loop and supported.
Navigating the New Normal With Crisis Communication Strategies
As you build trust with stakeholders and guide your company down the path to recovery, keep these communication strategies in mind:
- Take a virtual approach to maintain visibility in crisis communication.
CEOs lead a business’s strategy and vision. They have a unique platform to communicate with the public, investors, employees, and customers. It’s your responsibility to create and maintain strong relationships with these groups — through both crisis and recovery.
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but in times of crisis, a direct, honest, and caring discussion will always be preferred to silence. If you’re not used to being so visible to your stakeholders, it might feel uncomfortable at first, but the rewards will be tenfold. Just look at how well-received New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily coronavirus news conferences have been. Cuomo’s not perfect: He’s certainly made a few blunders along the way, but people respect his commitment to keeping his constituents informed. In fact, being human and vulnerable will allow you to create a stronger connection with your audiences.
In your own company, consider designating a particular section of your website to house video communications. This way, both internal and external stakeholders can access the videos. Use the platform to communicate regular updates about how you’re mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on employees and customers. Use the power of virtual meetings to instill optimism and confidence while being transparent about the challenges. Be mindful that your body language, facial expressions, and tone matter as much as your words in a video format.
- Ground business actions in company values.
In a volatile world filled with crises, people are looking for leaders to provide clarity and answers. This is a time for brands and CEOs to step up and apply their companies’ unique business strengths to help address the genuine needs of customers and society.
For example, Amazon Music partnered with Alicia Keys and nonprofit She Is The Music to raise funds for MusiCares’ Coronavirus Relief Fund. Amazon Music shared a video of Keys announcing the partnership and matched every engagement on the post for the next 48 hours with donations up to $100,000. Each stakeholder in this partnership had a unique influence and ability to help musicians impacted by the virus.
Brands and leaders need to live their values authentically — and for stakeholders to see those values expressed in everyday actions and words. That might look like implementing health-and-safety measures to protect employees and customers, addressing the state of diversity at all levels of your company, or launching a social impact initiative. Regardless, stakeholders are watching to see whether your values, words, and actions align, and they’ll hold you accountable if there’s a disconnect.
- Ensure your impact is felt close to home.
According to our research, local businesses and governments are currently outperforming all other entities — the media, national government, other consumers, tech companies, etc. — in terms of exceeding customers’ expectations by up to 7%. Consequently, consider localizing your recovery management communications and solidifying your brand’s role in the local communities you serve.
In other words, dive inward before expanding outward.
As you experiment with ways to become a stronger, more supportive local presence, be aware that you’ll have to adjust your crisis communication plan to account for regional differences. For example, if you have a presence in New York City, your tone should be vastly different than the one you use to address people in more rural areas of America. Each community has felt the detrimental effects of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean their experiences have been the same.
Leading during this crisis is a test of resilience — but we’re not out of the woods yet. Navigating the most critical aspects of recovery management will require just as much planning and focus as pushing through the crisis itself. Some companies will survive, some will come out stronger, most will change their business plans in one way or another, and some will unfortunately fail.
If you can be agile, authentic, and communicate your impact and value to your stakeholders now, you’re more likely to make a full recovery and come out stronger on the other side.
Commentary by Susan Saronitman. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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