With Wisconsin governor Tony Evers issuing a “Safer at Home” order, business leaders from all over the Milwaukee region continue to learn as they go when it comes to running their businesses. As most of the population is called to stay at home, business leaders in all sectors already face some tough decisions. By all accounts, those decisions aren’t going to get any easier.
Also joining in to talk about Governor Evers’ “Safer At Home” order was Missy Hughes, Secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Hughes explained what the new order means, what is deemed an “essential” business, and that the Governor’s order supersedes other municipal orders.
Dr. Raymond provided an update on the current status of the virus in Wisconsin. He reminded us that although these safety measures are being implemented, we are still in what are most likely the early stages of this pandemic. He highlighted the true dangers of COVID-19 versus the flu, noting that COVID-19 has a virulence and morbidity rate 10 to 50 times higher than the seasonal flu and that a lack of testing on the front lines means people can spread the disease easily even if they are not showing any symptoms. This fact makes social distancing the most effective way to stop the spread of the virus, and mitigate what could be a massive strain on the healthcare system. He warned that if we do not “flatten the curve,” we could face a crisis in the next three weeks.
Paul Sweeney is an investor in nine different companies, sitting on the boards of several of them. He spoke of the takeaways from his regular conference calls with the CEOs of those companies. He broke it down to four areas of importance:
Safety of employees
“I don’t think you can over-communicate at this point,” Sweeney said. “It’s communicating to your employees, it’s communicating to your customers and your suppliers.” He noted that the most important line of communication is to your employees and addressing their concerns about their immediate future, including whether or not they will have a job as the crisis lingers.
Regarding employee safety, he said to make sure employees know the things you are doing to keep their environment clean can help them feel safe at work. He cited as an example bringing in outside vendors to do deep cleaning and sterilization of facilities.
Since most of his companies fall into the “essential” category, Sweeney said that his companies may remain open during the pandemic. Even if you stay open, It is important to know how the crisis will affect your suppliers and customers, which will, of course, affect your operations.
The amount of liquidity in your business could be key, too, to react to uncertain times. While federal help may be on the way, Sweeney encouraged businesses to stay as self-sufficient as possible, collecting receivables, and perhaps “stretching out your payables.” He also spoke of issuing temporary layoffs and suggested a state program that can help with workers facing a reduced work schedule.
Follow the Money
Tina Chang’s expertise is in the technology and information systems arena. Her words of advice to other business leaders originate in the lessons learned from previous economic downturns. “I learned to identify where the support and where the money really is,” she said, specifically citing the Small Business Association’s Disaster Loan Assistanceprogram. She also encouraged attendees to get familiar with all assistance programs, including Small Business 20/20 from the WEDC and KIVA.org, a website that provides small loans to entrepreneurs.
SysLogic, Chang’s company, implemented a remote work policy early on in the crisis, in part because it was so easy for them to do so given the nature of their work. Her advice to others about social distancing and remote work centered around keeping employees connected, both literally as it relates to their devices (laptops, etc) and the internet, and figuratively in the form of regular video conferencing.
In terms of connected devices, especially those provided by employers, Chang stressed the importance of cybersecurity and making sure networks and devices are not compromised while an employee is working from home.
The most valuable commodity
Kimberly Kane brought her extensive experience in public relations, crisis communications and employee communications to the webinar. “I’ve always considered information one of the most valuable commodities,” Kane said. “And today we’re seeing full force how important information is to all of our stakeholders.”
Kane put together a step-by-step guide to developing a communications plan for your business. Her first point is good, honest and open communication is a MUST. Waiting to communicate is never a good idea when you’re in a crisis. She stressed the importance of having a communications response team that can triage the glut of information coming in, and filter the good information to those in your business’ circle who need it. This team should consist of five people at most. They should meet consistently, maybe even daily, and include members of your leadership team, HR, marketing and those who perform key functions of the business.
This team will not function properly without a proactive communications plan. This plan will identify which audiences need to hear from you, how you are going to communicate with them and through which channels. With the input of your comms team, develop key messages to be delivered consistently to all of your stakeholders.
Most importantly, what you say and how you say it matters, so be intentional and authentic in your communications. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know, let me find out and get back to you.”
Communication is key
The one thing each panelist came back to was communication. The ability to input massive amounts of complex and, in some cases, confusing information, then triage, interpret, and disseminate that information to people who are counting on it is key to weathering this pandemic. It can be a tremendous undertaking, and when you or your business needs help to do that, be sure to engage Kane Communications Group.
Business leaders in all sectors are already facing some tough decisions, and by all accounts those decisions are not going to get any easier.