This article originally appeared in Forbes.com
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a lot of glaring company culture issues for many. How can you pivot and recover quickly if your employees and customers have shut down and are disengaged?
Times of crisis are when we rely on our people — and they rely on us — the most. Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer special report on the coronavirus shows that employees see company communications as a trusted source of information. In fact, 54% of respondents trust their CEO to share truthful information about the coronavirus. That’s more than traditional news media (50%), government officials (48%) and journalists (43%).
If you aren’t communicating helpful, timely information to your team members and customers, they are left to speculate about what is going on and fill that void with other sources. When employees are afraid, they’re about to lose their job or suddenly uncertain about where your company is headed, they naturally disengage and are forced into survival mode.
When answers to their questions aren’t forthcoming from business leaders, employees and customers are more susceptible to whatever information (or misinformation) they can find. For example, if your team members are seeing layoffs and cutbacks in other companies and you aren’t openly sharing your plan to avoid that, it’s only natural they’ll fear that these things are coming to your company soon.
A void of accurate information can manifest into rumors, suspicion and gossip. Employees want to be kept in the loop — to feel that they matter enough to be part of the big picture.
Now more than ever, as this crisis continues impacting businesses and supply chains in myriad ways, frequent and meaningful check-ins with your employees and customers are a must. Here’s how to be a calming, reassuring force for your people:
5 Keys To More Impactful Internal And External Communications
Applying these five fundamentals makes a world of difference in keeping your employees and customers informed and engaged. In fact, it can be helpful to not only plan your updates and emails around these principles but also to run through this checklist before you hit send on any communication.
Keep your regular cadence of communications. If you’ve maintained a weekly customer email newsletter and two blogs a week until the crisis hit, don’t cut back. My team has seen a direct correlation between the number of email marketing campaigns and social media posts and the number of requests for quotes each month throughout the pandemic. Frequent communication keeps you top of mind with your customers and readers.
Edelman’s special report also found that 54% of U.S. employees are looking for updates about the virus at least once a day directly from their employers. There will be times you’ll need more information and facts before you can communicate; if so, let your staff and customers know when you will follow up with them. Post your updates to an intranet or internal social channel so employees can read and follow up on their own time.
Speak like a human being and be real. You can run a business with professionalism, but don’t take yourself too seriously. When you speak with emotion and empathy, you earn employees’ respect and trust.
Customers want to feel supported by the brands with whom they do business, too. In fact, 83% of respondents want brands to issue public statements communicating empathy and support for those affected by the pandemic, according to Edelman.
Everyone digests information in different ways, especially in stressful situations. Always reinforce essential details multiple times to ensure important points are heard and understood. Your business has the power to inform and calm, and sharing messages is reassuring to your team.
Let employees know what you’re doing to prevent layoffs. Maybe this is the time to invest in building your people up. In fact, my company launched an upskilling program in the middle of the pandemic. It gave us a way to build our employees up and keep them on the job, and that investment in people is so key to building the business, too. When you love and support your employees, you’ll be amazed at the love and kindness they have in their reserves for your customers.
Take ownership of your actions, even when there are mistakes or less-than-ideal outcomes. It’s not at all reassuring to employees or customers to hear a business leader blaming all kinds of external factors for what’s happening inside the company.
Be honest about the struggles you’re facing in your decision-making and open about the actions you’re taking to problem-solve. All parties will respect and understand your decisions. And if things go sideways, they’ll know exactly how hard you tried to achieve a better outcome.
Your responsibility is to listen, communicate and, most importantly, do. Engaging communications aren’t announcements; they’re two-way conversations. You have to be open to hearing what staff and customers are telling you, even if it contradicts your preconceived beliefs. You have to be ready to consider new information and back up your listening with action.
This is so key to building trust that I just can’t state the importance of it enough. Make your employees and customers a part of your decision-making process and get them invested in your shared success. You can do this with an open-door policy, phone or videoconferences, and town hall-style meetings to foster two-way conversations. The only way to build trust is by proving every single day, in every interaction, that you’re worthy of that trust.
Communication isn’t a soft skill. It’s a core competency that is integral to your company’s culture. When the chips are down, engaging your employees and customers isn’t simply a best practice. It just might be the key to your continued growth and success. Act as though your business depends on it — it very well might.