COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge for organizations around the world. As we face continued uncertainty, leaders are grappling with how to communicate with employees, customers and stakeholders. Everyone is figuring it out together.
The author of this Harvard Business Review article makes a few important points. The first is the importance of transparency. These are uncertain times, and uncertainty breeds fear. Because of this, it is important for leaders to be as transparent as possible. Share what you know and what you don’t. Share the rationale for your decision making. Share what you are doing to support your employees and customers. The author here also mentions the importance of empathy. Transparency is a way to demonstrate empathy.
The second is the importance of recognizing your audience and tailoring your message appropriately. Your customers, employees and shareholders all need different information. While most people are experiencing anxiety around COVID-19, their specific anxieties vary. If you have a retail store or location, customers want to know what you are doing to keep them safe and healthy in your place of business. If you provide a service, customers want to know whether that service could be interrupted and what you are doing to ensure it continues. Customers also want to know what you are doing to support your employees during this time of hardship.
As for your employees, they want to know the steps you are taking to keep them safe. They want to know their options as school districts around the world close down to slow the spread of the virus. They also want to hear directly from the leader of your organization.
Shareholders have yet another, different set of concerns. They want to know what you are doing in the short-term to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, and they want to know your long-term plans.
As your team communicates to these groups, remember that it’s better to be transparent than it is to get things right the first time. Transparency is empathy. Your customers, employees and stakeholders want to hear from you.
When dealing with uncertainty, leaders need to look at communication from the perspective of your audience and have empathy for them rather than fear of doing the wrong thing. This requires companies to communicate when they don’t have all of the information, to reveal as much as they can about sensitive information, and to be vigilant about correcting mistakes without worrying about the repercussions. As tennis champion Billie Jean King once said: “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”