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CxO’s Checklist for Effective Crisis Communication

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Guest Column: Zahara Kanchwalla, Co-Founder & CEO, Rite KnowledgeLabs shares the key pointers for CXOs to keep in mind for driving an effective communication when a crisis hits

What makes for effective CxO communication in a crisis?

Effective communication is a prerequisite to being a leader and CxOs are not new to dealing with various kinds of crises. In fact, both communication and crisis are a part and parcel of the C-level role. Whether it’s sudden shifts internally, unpredictable market conditions or an unexpected threat to the organisation – leaders are adept at confronting crises from the frontlines. However, COVID-19, like in all other aspects, has presented a new normal in crisis communication for leaders. The pandemic’s global scale, ever-changing guidelines and completely new ways of living and working have posed challenges to the most seasoned leaders. Communication strategies that may have seemed effective at the beginning of the pandemic became irrelevant during this year’s second wave. 

 

So, how does one communicate effectively during a crisis that seems never-ending? Here are five best practices for effective C-level communication amidst a crisis that refuses to lose steam.

 

Communicate consistently and more than usual

Sure, communication is critical during a crisis but leaders must also ensure that it is regular. A carefully constructed one-off statement comes across as token leadership and makes one appear closed off. Regularly communicating new information and updates keeps all stakeholders well informed. Receiving information from a leader during a crisis lends credibility and eliminates chances of rumours and misinformation. People know where to turn for authentic information and won’t pay heed to unreliable sources. In fact, leaders should go ahead and overcommunicate even if it means repeating the same message. Attention is limited and divided during a crisis so overcommunicating ensures the message is received and processed.

 

Empathy and compassion remain the key

The all-permeating nature of the COVID-19 crisis brought empathetic leadership to the limelight – made famous by New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern when the prime minister stated leaders can be compassionate and strong at the same time. Empathy continues to remain critical to effective leadership communication during these times. It means understanding that an organisation is not an abstract entity. It’s the people that come together to make the organisation. A crisis demands that leaders lead with a humane touch. It assures all stakeholders that you’re a leader that understands and not just after profiteering.

 

Be authentic about your vulnerability

Leaders aren’t expected to know it all, especially during an unpredictable crisis such as this. Being open and honest about one’s vulnerabilities goes a long way in earning trust. It demonstrates that you have confidence in people’s ability to cope with limited or unpleasant information. In addition, it reminds the people that their leader is human too and may not always have all the answers. Accept the situation’s fluidity and those involved are more likely to reciprocate with agility.

 

Provide channels for listening

The other half of communicating is listening. Opportunities for two-way communication with leadership during a crisis levels the relationship and builds trust. To generate an equalising sense of ‘in it together’, leaders must not do all the talking and communication should not be focused only on giving directions. Let employees and external stakeholders know that you’re open to listening and that you value their thoughts. Make provisions for them to voice their concerns, ask questions and give feedback. Leverage multiple options, channels and social media so they can choose a way to communicate that they’re most comfortable with. Make it a point to address the concerns and answer queries in your next communication.

 

Engage in shared values and purpose

Like brands, leaders too are perceived for more than their products and services. Apart from the organisation’s corporate social responsibility activities, this is the time to demonstrate the values you stand for as an individual. Make efforts towards social welfare and encourage others to do the same. Helping others promotes a sense of well-being that equips one to withstand a crisis. Doing so with colleagues and business partners gives the corporate community an opportunity to come together for shared values. 

 

Riding on the optimism of large-scale vaccination drives, many organisations began the year looking forward to their return to office plans. Those were quickly foiled by the second wave of COVID-19. Reliving lockdown-like conditions further killed morale. Living with grief and uncertainty has resulted in mental and emotional fatigue aka ‘pandemic brain’. With the third wave looming and the constant threat of new variants, the bitter truth is COVID-19 is a reality that’s here to stay. The conditions will remain unstable until a significant majority of the population is vaccinated. In such a situation, effective communication from leaders will continue to be the need of the hour.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of pitchonnet.com

About the author / 

Zahara Kanchwalla

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