by Team Zinnov
In this second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, gaps have developed between resource availability, resource requirements, and clear communication. During such a crisis there is a heightened need for transparency and direction; however, there is knowledge asymmetry due to it being either inaccessible or contradictory. Therefore, communication professionals have the onus of being clear, concise, and transparent while communicating with their employees, customers, and vendor partners.
This requires them to be not only have emergency guidelines, but also have centralized plans and response protocols, as well as full situational knowledge to make appropriate decisions as the situation unfolds. In such a crisis-ridden environment, where there is an information barrage from all fronts and misinformation has a way of trickling down in the organization, being quick, efficient, and clear but in an empathetic manner will be key.
Although there is no clearly-defined communications playbook as such to navigate the ins and outs of a crisis of this magnitude, we at Zinnov have collated some best practices and guiding principles across 5 key levers of an organization that will help communications professionals in these challenging times.
1. Structured Response
Structured communication, coupled with definitive action is not only crucial but need of the hour when handling a crisis, especially where there is room for confusion and panic. The idea is to convey critical and vital information to the stakeholders, keep the messages simple, succinct, and actionable.
- Have taskforces structured at global and local levels, with site leaders communicating the global health situation, along with functional leaders doing that at a local level
- Aggregate all relevant information on microsites with constant real-time updates
- Provide a list of verified contacts and third-party hotlines on dedicated portals
- Stay connected with the team leaders since employees may reach out to anyone in the organizational hierarchy
- Create employee volunteer groups for effective firefighting across the organization.
Vaccination is a very personal choice. Hence, communication around this subject needs to be treated accordingly. Here are a few ways the subject can be handled:
- Follow the government protocols.
- Outline steps to government-mandated registration policies/apps and communicate it with the teams
- Establish credibility by conducting webinars with doctors on vaccine and precaution related information
- Be recommendatory in your communication, and not prescriptive. Provide detailed responses to FAQs to dispel lingering fears, apprehensions, and to bust myths.
3. Role of Leadership
Empathy and compassion are essential for leaders when leading from the front, in the face of a global pandemic. To steer the organization through the crisis, leaders must back their words with actions.
- Define clear voices of credibility within the organization
- Communicators need to step up to ensure visibility and inspire leaders to communicate
- Acknowledge the changing times and realignment of priorities
- Have empathy at the core, from wider leadership communications to individual manager interactions
- Strengthen existing EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) to inculcate empathy in the managers
- Show a little vulnerability; it goes a long way.
4. Employee Communication
A crisis is ripe for misinformation and rumors to thrive among employees in an organization, when there is a lack of clear, transparent communication. Therefore, communications professionals should focus on managing the situation with sensitivity and care.
- Focus on addressing the present – the here, the now – in terms of support, resources, information, fears, and security
- Do not shy away from sensitive situations such as loss of life; in fact, prepare for it
- Be extremely cognizant of employee privacy; avoid instances that could lead to speculation due to unstructured or unclear communication
- Any information about illness or recovery must be shared voluntarily by the employees
- Share positive stories for morale but be extremely conscious about the timing
- Massaging is key – celebratory messages are not required.
5. Global Communication
Keeping the global leaders of the organization, customers, vendor partners, and all relevant stakeholders is an essential part of crisis communication.
- Standard templates and decks can be created for customers, leaders, and executive committees to apprise them of the situation, plans laid out, implementation details, etc.
- Context and messaging are the essence; hence, interactive sessions eliminate chances of ambiguity and are more effective than emails
- Communicate about the situation, solution, plan, and future outlook strategically. Deliver concrete recommendations and practical applications.
Although these are not set in stone, communications professionals need to take a discretionary call, based on factors such as size of the organization, geographical spread of employees, number of locations at which offices are present, etc. A structured, empathetic, and clear communications response will be effective, notwithstanding the factors mentioned above.
To know more about how you can outline a sensitive yet robust crisis communication strategy, drop us a note at email@example.com.
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