Building trust and providing reassurance in a crisis

by Anna Fozzard

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Leaders are being tested at the moment. You may need to make difficult decisions while keeping employees motivated. It’s like treading a tightrope. On the one hand, you want to spread some positivity. But when your business is under strain, upbeat communication can come across as false.

To strike the balance and build trust, businesses need to communicate with transparency and consistency.

Keeping your workforce informed

Your employees will want to hear from you regularly during a crisis – it will reassure them that you are still at the wheel, even if you don’t know exactly what the future holds. Weekly emails are an effective way to maintain a consistent level of communication. If you think you might run out of news, then look online for interesting or useful articles to share. The key here is regularity to provide consistency and become a source of truth for your people.

If you have a large workforce, you might find it helpful to create a specific COVID-19 microsite where all your internal and external comms will be hosted. Your employees will know where to look for information, and all leaders can follow the communication strategy.

Building community among a remote workforce

Leaders that create a feeling of togetherness with their employees will be the ones that maintain trust. Avoiding a ‘you vs us culture’ comes down to transparent internal communications that create a sense of community.

In the past, we’ve seen businesses sharing daily struggles and solutions through blogs to keep communications positive without coming across as false. It can also create common ground. When people are struggling with homeschooling during the lockdown, for example, it can be a great relief to know their boss is going through the same daily toil.

Sharing real positivity

When the positivity is genuine, it can have a great impact on morale. We say look to your team for inspiration. There are so many great charity efforts at the moment, and no doubt members of your team have got involved. Sharing stories of your employees’ efforts, via email, social media and/or your website, can create a positive conversation, but one that is grounded in sincerity. It can also help allay some of the feelings of helplessness that lockdown may create.

Protecting trust when revealing bad news

How you convey negative information is a key part of ensuring people feel considered, valued and understood when your business is in crisis mode.

Here are some tips on how to share bad news while safeguarding stakeholder trust.

Tip 1 – People first – Every financial decision has an impact on people. So, if you need to communicate updates about your financial position, frame it in terms of how it will impact people rather than leading with how it will affect the balance sheet.

Tip 2 – Be as transparent as possible – The reality of your decision may be particularly unpleasant at the moment but try to avoid covering up the facts. People will speculate if they think you are hiding something, and the rumours may be worse than the reality. If you made a mistake, own up to it. And if you don’t know the answer, admit it, but do reassure people that you are trying to figure out what’s best.

Tip 3 – Values – Your business’ values should underpin every decision, and this should come through in your communications. For example, if you value your people, make this clear.

Tip 4 – Neutral tone –Try to imagine that the person reading your communication received some upsetting news a few minutes ago. Anything too positive will sound inappropriate while anything particularly negative can worsen anxieties. Here are some more tips on tone during a crisis.

Tip 5 – Plan ahead – If you do need to make redundancies, a communications plan will help you act quickly AND appropriately. You don’t want the story to break in the news before you’ve had the chance to tell your employees personally. Planning for various scenarios will give you the chance to get the messaging and tone of your communications right before an announcement is urgent.

Crisis communications are always sensitive, but particularly now. If you are facing difficult decisions or predict that you might need to in the near future, a strategist can help you get the right level of empathy and understanding in your communications. Speak to us for crisis planning advice from one of our specialists.

Read more about communicating during a crisis on our dedicated help page:

Communicating during Coronavirus

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