Strong and compassionate Crisis Communication

crisis communication

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In difficult times such as those caused by COVID-19, leaders are faced with having to lead, take difficult decisions and also show empathy for those around them. This episode looks at 5 key principles of crisis leadership and communication.

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Show Notes

(This is a transcript created with an AI and is not 100% complete. If you have any questions, contact us at info@zeitgeistcomms.com. We’re here to help. )

James: 

Welcome to Zeitgeist Leadership Pulse, in this podcast we look at the strategies and the mindset that help leaders drive their businesses forward to succeed in an increasingly complex, uncertain and digital age.

James: 

Hello welcome again to Zeitgeist leadership pulse. Before we begin go ahead and subscribe to the podcast and if you’re happy with what you’ve heard go ahead and give us a five star rating. That will enable us serious things get more content found to be the site itself.

James: 

Today we’re looking at strong compassionate crisis communication.

Jutta go ahead and tell our listeners a little bit more about this.

Jutta: 

Yes so you know I’ve been watching various businesses and organizations and politicians as they’ve adapted to the current crisis many have done incredibly well and have really shown flexibility and moved quickly. I think we also need to recognize that government leaders across the world have promptly stepped in stepped up to the global challenges have done whatever it takes to save lives.

Jutta: 

Equally they are trying to create opportunities to look after people’s livelihoods and it can be really difficult for leaders to be honest.

James: 

We’re being told about the new realit The trouble is and the tendency is that they’re actually not looking far enough ahead … and the real new reality has probably less to do with our experience of lock down. And more what will happen post lock down with potential job losses and lack of income.

Jutta: 

Yes that’s right and that’s really where this title fits in,  strong and compassionate crisis communication comes in, There will be job losses we know that we’ve already seen some of that happening and businesses will not be able to return to normality as it was back to where they left off this will be the case across many industries but particularly within the travel industry we can see already rolls Royce announced eight thousand job losses Airbus and Boeing slash production and twelve thousand of British Airways staff will likely be cut.

Jutta: 

And yesterday another travel company announced a possible eight thousand job losses going forward so leaders will be called upon to make incredibly difficult decisions and that will take nerves of steal but will also mean that they need to communicate excellently well, with resolve and compassion and that’s where the title for today’s episode when he comes in.

James: 

We already hear about these numbers of job losses and we are right at the beginning and we seen industries impacted by this. We need to look at the hospitality events industry where losses are expected that it seems that we’re headed for new difficult waters not a day goes by without a politician making some announcement using the words recession and things like that so what do you think practically leaders need to do.

…… you yourself have handled various crisis scenarios all the way from child kidnapping,  including mass layoffs all the way to war scenarios.

Tell us a little bit more about what leaders will need as we move forward.

Jutta: 

I think sometimes we think of leadership as a privilege – which it is – but it definitely is a responsibility and some leaders today will be required to balance making difficult decisions and being able to communicate with empathy compassion and clarity so balancing those things can be really difficult.

I remember my time as European marketing and communications director for Flextronics now called flex sitting in an office with one of our corporate bosses who without any other conversation simply said so how many ? as a young manager I didn’t know actually what he was talking about, I was passionate about my job cared about the twenty direct and indirect star who I was looking after and I cared what people thought of me.

So,he really had to spell out what he meant and he asked me how many people I was going to lay off.

It was an incredibly difficult thing to deal with I tried to crunch the numbers and went back to my boss and said look I’ve found a way to keep everyone – and really the answer was ‘that’s just not going to work’ so in the end I had to make difficult decisions and I also had to communicate those.

James: 

It’s really hard, I had to do that myself and remember one scenario where I actually was brought in to an organization to balance the books and as most people would know that’s very difficult to do without letting people go so we have to communicate with compassion but we have to communicate those hard truths… you have to have a very clear plan to actually work out what your goals are what cuts you will need but never forget that people are people and you are dealing with … and we have to be wise but never lose that golden thread of compassion in communication so what tips do you have for leaders faces with this?

Jutta: 

Yeah so I completely agree with you I think first of all leaders need to remind themselves that the decisions they’re making today they will impact those they have to let go but they also impact the people who are going to stay in the business and if they don’t take these decisions potentially more people will suffer as a result because the business is going to crumble. So, knowing that will help them communicate more clearly and will help them make the right decisions. A couple of days ago a friend of mine told me that you know he had been put on furlough and that his boss had not communicated with him in six weeks and then simply send an email to say by the way we’re going to get rid of eighty percent of staff and that was pretty much it so that is not a way to communicate. Yes, it is right that they might need to get rid of eighty percent of stuff yes okay so we do. But we also want to say what what it is we’re doing to help,  we need to communicate continuously so leadership and communication must go hand in hand we conscious say the communication part is for someone else.

James: 

Yeah we can do that so we’ve communication recently by the government I mean I think broadly we need to be supportive of the government because they’re in a totally new scenarios but what they communicate can impact the whole mood for days. I would say that …when the prime minister had committed himself to a communication… it might have been better …not to follow through on talking about the next phase at that particular point.

Jutta: 

Yeah you know that’s a really interesting point. Had the PM gone public and said you know what I’ve changed my mind we’re not ready to communicate on this yet he might have saved himself some headaches but it is easy from where we stand.

James: 

So how do we just communicate with the results on the one hand and compassion on the other hand without losing clarity in the midst of a crisis.

Jutta: 

Yes, so I would say there are five key things leaders can do right now
 So number one be aggressibley honest with yourself and your leadership team about the reality that we find ourselves in and don’t be afraid to name things so within your company name what’s not working and name what is going to be difficult secondly don’t make the mistake of trying to create a narrative.

So don’t get me wrong leaders do need to be clear on what they’re communicating but sometimes they create a story line which just does not ring authenticity so don’t go into PR spin after all that that is not going to work, instead leaders need to think about what will matter most to the stakeholders and communicate to each one even if it means communicating that they cannot deliver what the stakeholder wants.

Jutta: 

In the PM’s case he commented on the hard work people have done stay home that’s great but then he did not address the fear people have of returning he also did not respond to the fact that the hand holding created by the lockdown needed easing more slowly, people are not approaching things with common sense but with caution and possibly some new found enjoyment even of less stress – so addressing them with this in mind could have created more buy-in I think.

James: 

Yeah I think you’re right there are many pressures to do the right thing but ultimately what I’m learning is that communication is not just about saying the right thing in communicating that but it making sure you are listening to your clients and understand where they are right now. I’m just talking to a business owner just today actually …

Jutta: 

You’re right so truth is super important but it’s not the fix it all empathy must accompany truth in a society which relies on each-other so the third point is really about communicate, communicate, communicate we’ve all heard that but it is still the key element of crisis communication.

It is not always that you say what listeners want to hear but you’re signaling that they are important enough that you take the time to engage with them so you’re not communicating so that they like what you’re saying but you are communicating so that they know that you care and that you really want to talk to them so we want to make sure we show up and we clarify so once we’ve communicated with then follow up with more communication and along the way we allow the audience to ask questions, in person or maybe through a continuously updated faqs on the website but don’t stop communicating.

Fourthly so I think my fourth point is really important is something you need to do right up front when you think about the crisis communication it’s sifting through fact from fiction. This is actually crucial. In a crisis people add fictitious ideas to the overall messaging so if you have a gap in the facts people will fill the gap and media particularly love filling the gap.

So once it’s in the media is really difficult to to sort of call it back.

So what you want to do is right up front name all the facts here and if someone says anything that is fictitious you go straight back in and clarify.

James: 

So where is the compassion factor come in how do we communicate how truth without it seeming like empty words?

Jutta: 

Yeah you know as leaders we’re really challenged to be responsible. That means we take difficult decisions as I said before but that does not mean we are without heart nor should we treat people as pure resources this is one of my things so you know the word human resource is really not one of my favorite words because it just says people are resources we need to remember that these are people it is tempting not to be empathetic or compassionate and why is that tempting? Because we’re trying to distance ourselves from a really difficult decision and sometimes it can seem easier to do this if we don’t engage on an emotional level.

But we really do need to lead on the human side of things it just it just shows that we are so much more of a rounded leader someone who can walk the tight rope of tough decisions while also caring for people – tell your people that it is going to be really difficult tell them that you realize that they’re fearful empathize.

James: 

But surely it doesn’t seem right, to them just empty words seem like a drop o na hot stone doesn’t it?

Jutta: 

You’re right it can seem that way but we can ensure the human side also in other ways so I think this is where leadership comes in where we go that extra mile, so for example .before cutting drastically we can look at are there any other ways that we can deal with this are there part time roles we can create, can we reduce hours can there possibly be a management buyout of a certain part of our business – only when we’ve looked at all the options should webproceed and then leaders need to communicate what they’re doing to help those who will be leaving the organization –  maybe providing references pairing them up with employment agencies paying for training in these times leaders must be radically business focused while equally community minded and ensuring that they do whatever they can to not simply drop people.

James: 

There’s been some really good insight here I think in the times people think of crisis communications that it is you to do list, a program, but I hear you saying today that a lot of communication is about how people feel and just insuring that it is factored in by offering some kind of practical help

Let me briefly just summarize the four points. We looked at number one just be really honest about the reality, number two that made a mistake of trying to create a narrative just be authentic number three communicate communicate communicate …number four make sure that you sift out fact from fiction in these days in these days of fake news you get just might show that goes in the bin and instead just make sure that what you communicating s well thought through facts and lastly in conclusion be compassionate show empathy.  I you need crisis communications support let me just mention that Zeitgeist Communication does offer a strategic crisis communication consultancy which can really help you get started in the right direction .

 It is sometimes just really helpful to have you know the second pair of eyes on things to get some perspective and address some of those hard questions maybe the questions you haven’t thought of yourself so.

If you’re out there, listenting contact us at info@zeitgeistcomms.com or dm Jutta Devenish on LinkedIn.

James: 

We’ll be glad to help I do hope you enjoyed today’s episodes please leave us a five star review help us to reach more leaders out there and for all of you navigating through these hard times stay strong.

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