Coronavirus is causing plenty of human and economic pain, and the way we communicate about it does not help.
The ongoing, extremely bad case of coronavirus has, among quite a few other things, redefined the art of crisis communication. Just when organizations thought they had covered all imaginable angles (as well as a couple of unimaginable ones), fine-tuned their messages, trimmed the communication chain and prepared for the worst-case scenario oh-so-thoroughly, they were caught by a bad surprise.
The worst-case scenario went further by a couple of notches and organizations found themselves in the middle of an extremely unfamiliar territory. All of a sudden, they were like rabbits looking at charging headlights. Startled and shocked, with desperation to say or do something but no idea what that should be.
COVID-19 messes up businesses. It slows down general activity, disrupts supply chains, makes operations inefficient and prevents companies to reach their targets. Q1 is lost big time and making up for that will most likely take considerably longer than the rest of the year, even if recovery started tomorrow. The human factor is even more serious; health is still more important than finance.
While we can only do so much as individuals when it comes to spreading the COVID-19, there is substantially more we can achieve as organizations when we help our people spread the message the proper way.
First of all, we all should understand that people are scared, startled and even angry. It is more than understandable in unfamiliar situations, and it is largely due to all that false information out there. Largely due to social media, everyone is suddenly an expert in virology. We have to stop the rumors and provide actual facts about what is going on out there.
Communication has to be prompt, determined and emphatic. While understanding the human pain, we have to be able to show that even with extreme pressure pouring from all directions, the organization is able to function in a systematic manner.
This includes both the communicated issues and the tone of voice. The message has to be uniform, the choice of channels relevant and steady. In the fast-changing environment, the temptation to go back and forth becomes almost too much to deal with, but we have to ensure that messaging is in line with overall communication guidelines. The situation is exceptional, but that means all the more reason for going steady. Stick with the playbook – show confidence and calmness, and you will create such atmosphere around you.
The official guidelines issued by the government and health care professionals are a solid platform for facts and procedures. Keep the employees informed and follow the instructions. Take your organization’s special requirements into account, but never go against the officials.
Be open. Be honest. And always, always provide a channel for two-way communications. Let the employees know and feel that their worries and concerns are being heard and noticed.
While it may feel like the worst is still to come, even the mighty COVID-19 will, eventually, surrender. Recovery will take a long time, but the best way to get there is to start moving. We can do that right away, and it all begins with the way we communicate the facts within our own organization.