The coronavirus pandemic has created a new set of challenges for leaders who face growing responsibilities of supporting the safety of staff, protecting the reputation of the company, and shoring up the viability of operations. The risks of missteps are compounded by social media activism, misinformation and rapidly changing, sometimes conflicting, decisions by policymakers.
We are moving out of sheer crisis communications into a new phase of the pandemic. Uncertainty is the new crisis. To be successful, leaders today need the stamina to communicate for the long haul.
In this video blog, Kane Communications Group’s Kimberly Kane and James Burnett talk about steps they’re taking to help leaders communicate through these uncertain times. The two convey why communicating is so important even when you don’t have the answers, how to create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about uncertainty and why you need to set a pace for communications and build relationships.
Kimberly Kane 0:08
Hi, everyone. I’m Kimberly Kane, President and CEO of Kane Communications Group. And I’m joined by our Director of strategic public relations, James Burnett to talk about communications leadership during uncertain times. And James, you and I are working on a lot of really complex projects right now. Communications leadership is really very important today, isn’t it?
James Burnett 0:28
It is it is. We’re in unprecedented times and communicating what we’re working on how we’re leading, and the path forward is hugely important to any business making it through this period.
Kimberly Kane 0:39
Yeah, one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to this discussion with you is you and I bring a really unique set of perspectives to the table as agency leaders today. So we both spent time in the trenches, if you will, is journalists covering breaking news, both worked in corporate communications and Now today we’re really an agency so we can bring a really unique blend of experiences to the
James Burnett 1:00
Absolutely, I mean, in some positive and I suppose a few negative ways, this reminds me of a number of crises I covered as a journalist, the aftermath of 911 following the Boston Marathon bombing, I can say with certainty that those organizations that had a plan in place for communicating after those horrible events happened, were distinctive in their presentation from those organizations that approach these things with no plan, and no idea of how they were going to communicate with their employees and what their other stakeholders so it really matters.
Kimberly Kane 1:37
Well, now that we’re a little bit more than a month into COVID-19, we’re beginning to move out of some of the shear crisis communications that you really see taking place at the beginning of a crisis where you’re triaging information and you’re really bringing it in and thinking about what it means to you and how it’s affecting your organization and your stakeholders to a new phase of life. crisis where, you know, I think hope is being tested. And it almost feels like uncertainty today is the new crisis. We’re seeing some glimmers of hope. But we know really being on the other side of this is a long way away. And there’s a new challenge that that’s really creating for leadership today where you’re having to manage your day to day business. And in many cases, you know, try to make sure that the business can stay afloat, but you’re also having to plan for the long term and plan your way out of this crisis, while also keeping your employees and your stakeholders close. So there’s a lot on the shoulders of leaders today.
James Burnett 2:40
Absolutely. Kimberly. It’s like playing chess while walking on a tightrope. So it is a tough time. But it does beg the question, what does this mean for businesses and their leaders? It means connecting with employees and stakeholders is no longer a nice to have or something that happens after a plan is put together. Communications is not part of a business strategy. It is a key business strategy. Our goal with this discussion is to equip leaders with insights and ideas based on our experience. crisis communications at the beginning of a crisis requires a set of tools. If you don’t have those tools, you’re flying blind as they say you’re steering rudderless. Choose your analogy, it all means the same thing. We’re talking about now communicating through prolong times of uncertainty. And if you don’t have a roadmap at the beginning of that process, it can get messy. At the end of this discussion, leaders will understand why communicating is so important even when you don’t have the answers. How to create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about uncertainty, even bad news, and why you need a set to set a pace for communications and build relationships to help steps you can take today. So there’s so much changing today. The pandemic has changed a lot business as we know it. life as we know it. People want to know what this means for their lives. This puts leaders in a really tough spot because we don’t always have the answers. human instinct is to try to give an answer every time but we don’t have them. And so we need to be prepared to communicate, even when we don’t have those answers, if for no other reason than to generate calm, consistency, and to help our employees and other stakeholders know that we’re on top of things. So here’s where leaders have to start. You need to communicate often through a crisis. Number one, even if you’re still trying to understand how changes will impact your company, employees and stakeholders. People basically want to know one thing, what does this mean for me, that’s always going to be the ultimate question in a crisis situation. How does this impact me? leaders may not always have the answer, but you need to demonstrate that getting answers and providing information about what you do know is a top priority. Remember, you’re communicating with people who may feel fear Put yourself in their shoes, understand their anxiety, feel empathy, show empathy, be as transparent as possible, even when you have difficult news. Most of us are accepting that life is not as it used to be. And normal is going to be redefined even as this crisis starts to clear. Yes, it really it really is, I knew that we hear the phrase new normal. That’s, it’s a very real thing that we’re gonna have to embrace. And we need information, facts to accept change and to make decisions.
Kimberly Kane 5:32
Yeah. And, you know, in my experience, when leaders are able to take those steps and communicate with our employees, based on transparency, you know, based on over communicating and connecting with employees and really feeling that empathy. They create trust with our employees and with our stakeholders. And that is so important today. When leaders create trust, they really build and they protect their reputations. And I think that’s going to be very important for leaders and for companies, especially As we come out of this crisis, there are some signs of hope we see the curve beginning to flatten in some areas. But leaders are still in this really precarious position right where they have to make day to day decisions based on what’s best for the business. But they also have to start planning for the future. So they’re in the midst still, of this is how COVID-19 has affected my business, my teams, my employees, my stakeholders, but I’ve got to start looking long term and planning for the future. So I think it’s really important for leaders to take their employees and their stakeholders along this journey with them. And they can start by creating an environment where people feel comfortable talking about uncertainty and even bad news. So they’ve done what you’ve recommended, they’re created, they’re communicating consistently through the crisis. They’re being transparent. They’re being authentic, but they’re also creating that environment where people feel comfortable talking about uncertainty and bad news. So to do that leadership Make communications a two way street, do more than just share information, meet people where they’re at, invite feedback and questions and encourage discussions. Also use technology to bridge gaps. We’ve had Google Hangouts for years, but we’ve never used it as consistently as we do today. So use Google Hangouts or zoom or other systems, and make these meetings more personal, giving people the chance to really connect with you to participate right away, even using your cat functions. I also think, James, it’s it’s important for leaders to thank people for their feedback, even if that feedback is uncomfortable or you disagree with it. work. It’s awesome. Yeah. When people step up and provide some insights, I think oftentimes we learn, we learn things, don’t we, from our teams, when when they share some feedback. And another thing I think that’s important is, you know, you talked about how leaders oftentimes don’t have all the answers right now and we may not have them for a long time, but we need to be committed to following up And letting employees know or stakeholders know, hey, I’m working on that or maybe a while before I have an answer for you. Because that again kind of builds that relationship, and it creates trust. So I think leaders need to know that we’re in this for the long haul. And being present with consistent communications during these uncertain times, is going to be important for a long time. I want to bring up another slide also, because you and I are doing some unique things, I think with our clients when it comes to crisis communications, and I think relationship building and getting the message right is a big part of this. So it’s not just, you know, disseminating information as it comes. In. Short, we’re thinking through like, we’re asking people, aren’t we to hold us accountable for the messaging that we’re putting together?
James Burnett 8:51
We really are. It’s, it’s interesting, again, instinct sometimes or at least in peaceful times, normal times. Whatever. Domain can be to take the simplest route, which a lot of people may have thought previously was just a press release or some sort of price re or a post on social media. We’re being compelled in these times to engage different stakeholders, and really get granular with our own learning of who influencers are in our community, and who out there can help us convey the messages that we need to our employees, our stakeholders, our partners, and so on.
Kimberly Kane 9:30
Yeah. And we’re recognizing that a big part of that is keeping communication, it’s consistent. So we’ve learned how important it is to set a pace for communications and to your point, to build relationships to help us. So we’ve created teams through some of these crisis communications projects are working on and those teams own different areas of information and messaging. This not only helps us ensure that the information is more accurate, but it also helps keep people from burning out because there’s a lot of information that’s coming at people and organizations today. And something else that we’ve done. And you just touched on this James is we built relationships with our stakeholders and partners. So information can mean different things to different people. So messages cannot be communicated in a one size fits all way. So a company might have non essential workers and essential workers, we want to make sure that all of them feel safe, but how we’re messaging to them is going to be different if they can work remotely. And if they have to be in the offices or, you know, on the floor, essentially doing their jobs. I think the other thing is organizations have, they may be communicating with individuals in different demographics. So working with your stakeholders, working with your partners to help leaders think through how messages may need to evolve over time, can be effective and it can help strengthen and build those relationships.
James Burnett 10:53
Absolutely. That is hugely important. So the bottom line is this pandemic has changed business. We know that change our communities, our employees lives. These changes are here to stay for a while. And so leaders need to be able to manage uncertainty while also running their organizations. It’s not a zero sum game, it’s not either or you have to do both. At this point if you’re going to be a successful leader, the most important steps leaders can take today are to first accept the fact that they need to be communications leaders, as well as business leaders. This is not a zero sum game, you can’t choose one or the other. If you’re going to get your organization and your employees through this crisis, or any crisis, you have to be both communication and business leader. Create a team to help manage the flow of information. Engage your partners and stakeholders to help inform your messaging. They can also make you aware of risks and opportunities. Communicate often and with empathy. I cannot emphasize that enough. Don’t be afraid of not having the answers. Be willing to admit this and ask for patience as you work to get those answers and make communications a two way street. use technology to invite feedback and questions and commit to following up. Those sorts of things will keep you sharp as a leader, I promise you, when you’re getting feedback from your employees, and you’re getting challenged with questions, it will compel you to think hard about what those answers are and what they should be. These steps build trust, and they also protect your reputation as a leader, and the reputation of your organization. Ultimately, your brand, which is your reputation, is your most valuable asset. Protecting It is vital, and you will need that good reputation as the economy rebounds.
Kimberly Kane 12:36
Yeah, I think you and I, James, know all too well, that crisis communications is not just about bringing information in and getting it out. It’s really about managing that information. So people can receive it in a way that makes the most sense for them without being being overwhelmed. So I think these are uncertain times people have to really think about how Communicating complex information. And leaders in particular have difficult challenges on their shoulders. Because we’re managing our businesses and really trying to plan for the future, while we’re also trying to communicate the right information to our employees. So there’s a lot in the shoulders of leaders
James Burnett 13:16
really is really, the steps will help them understand better how to communicate with their stakeholders and share that confidence. And that security, that sense of security that comes from knowing that things are being handled.
Kimberly Kane 13:31
Yeah, for sure. So people want more information or they want to get connected with us here at Kane Communications Group. Feel free to reach out to us directly using the email address results at Kane comma group comm give us a call 414-635-7000 and you can also sign up for our weekly e newsletter which is called leaving insights. And we’ll share insights like the kinds of things that James and I were just talking about. We do reviews of business articles, and we invite speakers to come in and we recorded those conversations as well. We share all of those in our newsletter. So thanks again, James, for joining me for this conversation.
James Burnett 14:09
Absolutely. Thank you Kimberly.
We need to be prepared to communicate even when we don’t have the answers.