Communicating in a Crisis. Power Idea by Alliance Partner, Diane Janovsky.

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside-down. In all businesses, the stress level is high.

Many leaders are being forced to make gut-wrenching decisions like layoffs or closing their doors. And even employees who are fortunate enough to be in “essential roles” or able to work remotely are still likely to be experiencing uncertainty and anxiety about their job and their personal life.

Effective communication is always a critical success factor in organizations; however, in challenging circumstances like we are facing today, it is crucial for leaders to recognize that they must make it a priority to communicate with and engage with their teams who are doing the work. If they don’t, there is a higher risk that performance will suffer at the time when it is needed most.

Why wouldn’t a leader make the time to communicate with their team? They might feel that they are too busy fighting fires and doing their own critical tasks. Or, they may assume that everyone just intuitively understands what actions are needed and what the priorities are.

No matter the reason, when there is a communication gap, people will fill the void with rumors and assume the worst, which hurts morale. When expectations are unclear, there is confusion and inefficiency. When there is no forum to raise questions and ideas, employees can’t easily express their concerns nor suggest creative solutions that might improve the situation.

So what should a leader do? Commit to communication and follow these 3 steps:

  • Create a crisis communication plan using these building blocks:
    • Content – Current status, recent decisions/changes, priorities, next steps.
    • Frequency – Hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.
    • Channels – Leader-to-team or one-on-one; verbal or written; in-person or virtual; real-time or recorded.
  • Build in listening mechanisms. Yes, leaders need to deliver information, but communication must flow both ways to be effective. Employees need to be able to express themselves and feel they are being HEARD.
  • Cultivate trust through honesty and transparency, without overpromising or being unduly optimistic. Proactively manage expectations and follow through on commitments. Everyone will be watching.

Organizations that already have strong communications practices in place only need to modify as necessary for the circumstances. For example, it may make sense to provide a deeper level of detail, increase frequency, or add more or different channels.

If there is no current communication strategy, START NOW to create one. It’s never too late and it doesn’t need to be perfect. It won’t be as easy as enhancing an existing process, but the payback will be well worth the investment of time and effort.

Whether in “normal” times or in crisis, we believe that developing effective communication skills and practices is one of the keys to maximizing organizational performance. To learn more about how you can unlock the power of human potential in your business, visit us at

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