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10 tips for communicating in a crisis

Communications specialist Julie Weldon has helped many organisations during times of crisis, and provides a timely checklist.

With COVID-19 upon us, leaders nationwide have rapidly been working out how they can continue to operate. As they resolved operational issues like access to the cloud, laptops for their team and writing policies to reflect the new working world, many have quickly realised just how important and complex effective communication really is.

Even for organisations with a strong communication culture, things are very different during a time of crisis and there’s lots to think about. We’ve pulled together a few tips to ensure you communicate effectively.

1. You need a communication plan When you’re no longer all in the one place, there are things that can be missed – people, issues, opportunities. So, make a plan to support both formal and informal communication. If you don’t, you have so many competing things to stay on top of, you’re bound to miss something – or someone – important.

2. Identify who you need to communicate with In this current health crisis, it’s especially important to start close to home – your employees and their families, including those that may be on parental or long-service leave. Then think more broadly. Who would want to know that you are still operating (or not), that you and your team are safe and well, and what are your current plans? These may include customers/clients, prospects, partners, donors, volunteers and suppliers – from your financial institutions, to your security company and even your fruit box supplier.

3. Get clear on your messages and tailor them for each audience All communication is really about getting someone to think, do or feel something. Make a list of all the different groups, and sub-groups. Jot down what you want them to know and how you want them to feel, what they might be feeling now (eg what are they concerned about). Consider too what you would want to know if you were in their shoes. That will help you determine your messages.

4. Start communicating Even if you don’t have all the answers, start communicating. People understand that things are changing and that you are still working out the details. It’s ok to say that – especially to your people. But start communicating – rumour loves silence. So, tell them what you know, and if don’t know, say so and undertake to let them know when you do.

5. Be open, honest and, above all, authentic People will be looking for reassurance that you are in control, and that you are still going to be there to support them – no matter whether they are staff, clients or suppliers. Be genuine in how you communicate. If your natural style is informal, let that come through. Don’t try to be something that you aren’t, either personally or as an organisation. Above all, make sure that your messages are consistent.

“People will be looking for reassurance that you are in control, and that you are still going to be there to support them – no matter whether they are staff, clients or suppliers.”

6. Use diverse channels In normal times, you probably called all your staff together and told them things face to face. So, embrace tools like Skype or Zoom. Email will still be important, but as people juggle home-schooling or caring responsibilities, they may not be in front of laptops all the time. So, communicate through multiple channels to ensure the message reaches them where they are. Consider social media, SMS and messaging tools, or even hard copy mail. Don’t rely on just one channel. But do make sure that you have a definitive source of truth, such as a webpage, so people can remind themselves what you’ve said.

7. Ask for feedback Check in frequently – formally and informally – with your audiences. Are people clear about what you’re saying? Do they still have questions? What are they still concerned about? Once you understand their concerns and issues, you can adjust your messages.

8. Refresh your plan A communication plan is a living document, so keep updating messages, and channels if need be, as the situation unfolds. There could even be new people you need to reach out to.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help While we all communicate every day, structured communication is a specialist skill-set, so don’t be afraid to bring in professional help. Consider getting someone to review your plan or help write it – someone towork with you on getting your key messages right or draft some holding statements you can draw on if things evolve. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can really help, especially if you are down in the detail.

10. Look after yourself A crisis can be all consuming, and if you are the leader, there is usually a lot sitting on your shoulders. Take care of yourself, just as much as you are taking care of your team and your clients.

It’s a challenging time for everyone, but it’s so much easier if people know what you’re doing and what you need them to do. Clear, concise and consistent communications is the key to getting everyone on the same page, especially in a crisis.

KEY TAKEOUTS THAT YOU CAN SHARE WITH OTHERS
  • Make a plan
  • Tailor your messages to audiences
  • Be authentic
  • Ask for feedback and adjust if needed
  • Seek additional input

Julie Weldon is a specialist business member of The Xfactor Collective – an Australian-first community comprising highly experienced and pre-vetted specialist businesses across 300+ areas of specialisation. 

Need help in your organisation? We run the sector’s first Specialist triage support service (our CONCIERGE) where we can help you find support from a range of services and solutions.

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