By: Caitlin Gibson
In the face of uncertainty, it can be overwhelming to lack the answers your employees are looking for, or a clear vision for your business’ future. How do you reassure people and keep things moving forward? How do you keep everyone on the same page? How do you ensure difficult business decisions are relayed thoughtfully and accurately?
As with any organizational change, the key is effective internal communications. They’re how you fortify your business to weather the storm. They can prevent the spread of panic, bad information, and negativity. They can also build trust, cultivate connection, and strengthen diverse organizational structures. So, no matter what specific situation your business is facing, here are ten ways to strengthen your communication practices during times of uncertainty:
#1 Acknowledge the lack of normalcy.
It’s not only okay to admit it’s not business as usual right now; it’s really important that you do. By infusing your communications with this awareness, you can provide your employees with some degree of relief and reassurance in the face of unforeseen challenges. Let employees know it’s understandable that they feel off, struggle with productivity, and feel more stress than usual. Those experiences are the new normal, and, by validating your employees’ concerns, you can alleviate some of the stress people are undoubtedly feeling.
#2 Make sure your mission, vision, and values remain clear.
It’s easy to lose sight of these things when everyone is distracted and preoccupied. But, now more than ever, employees need to know what they’re working toward and why their individual contributions matter. Make sure your mission, vision, and values are cascaded to employees through regular company-wide meetings and, ideally, weekly 1:1s between employees and their managers. This ensures everyone knows what’s expected of them and how their work fits into the bigger picture, keeping everyone motivated.
#3 Give and ask for feedback often.
Routinely collect feedback on what and how you’re communicating in general, and ensure managers are giving performance feedback to their employees regularly in 1:1s and vice versa. A feedback-rich culture helps people know what to work on and prioritize, so everyone can focus on getting better. Especially when employees feel disconnected, consistent, balanced feedback is a way to connect, stay motivated, and continue to grow.
#4 Invite employees to problem-solve.
Whether it’s addressing day-to-day snags or finding efficiency gains, encourage employees to get involved in the problem-solving process. If there have been cuts to discretionary spending, empower employees to devise creative solutions and workarounds. If there’s a change to your work dynamic, like a massive shift to remote work, ask employees to brainstorm ways to make your new set-up run more smoothly. Ensuring employees participate in problem-solving shows your confidence in them and helps people feel more invested in their work and the company.
#5 Prioritize professional development.
It’s easy to neglect short- and long-term goals during times of uncertainty, but staying focused on them is crucial. When employees feel they’re progressing in their career, they’re 20% more likely to stay with the company. Since professional development is a fluid process, it’s more than okay to make adjustments right now, so long as people have meaningful goals to work on. If necessary, encourage employees to re-tool their goals to fit their new work circumstances, responsibilities, and priorities.
#6 Hone your internal communications approach.
During times of uncertainty, infrequent, inconsistent communications can make people think they’re being kept in the dark because they’re not trusted or valued, which is a recipe for disengagement. Instead, take the following approach:
- Increase the frequency of your communications.
In addition to keeping employees informed, this also encourages them to communicate more with each other.
- Deploy short, but effective messaging.
For each message you send, identify the key points you want to make and what action you want your employees to take or behavior change you want to bring about.
- Share important messages in a highly visible, virtual location, like email, Slack, or an intranet.
This creates dedicated channels where employees can ask questions and share concerns, so you can address them proactively.
Consider utilizing communication journeys that’ll do much of this work for you and show you what’s working and what’s not.
#7 Be transparent.
Describe how key decisions were made, including who made them and what was considered in the process, and give a candid assessment of the current situation. Be honest when sharing major problems and challenges, and focus on the steps you’re taking to overcome them. Consider weekly business updates to relay this information as any longer can feel like too long for those worried about their job security, financial situation, and the company’s overall health.
#8 Adjust your approach as you go.
How do you know what’s working and what’s not? Seek out internal communication services that include the functionality needed to see what’s going well and what can be improved. It also pays to actively listen to what’s being said across the company. What are people writing on Slack? What frustrations are managers relaying from 1:1s? Seek out these sentiments, so you can proactively prevent the spread of bad information and address pressing concerns as soon as possible.
#9 Be empathetic and compassionate.
The importance of this can’t be overstated. Lead with compassion and embrace the discomfort of challenging conversations, which are necessary and inevitable in difficult times. Validate prevalent emotions like uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. Train your managers to spot emotional and mental health red flags in 1:1s with their employees. Then, check in on your managers, too, and look for burnout, feelings of being overwhelmed, or the need for more information. To get a sense of where folks are at, consider using an employee engagement survey. By remaining attuned to everyone’s wellbeing, you’ll show that you care and be able to leverage the right employee motivation strategies at the right time.
#10 Find opportunities for levity, rewards, and recognition.
Celebrate accomplishments, birthdays, and work anniversaries. Recognize and reward achievements. Acknowledge outstanding effort. Find reasons to laugh and be joyful together. These are all ways to improve morale and provide employees with the positivity and support they need to tackle the tough stuff.
During times of uncertainty and unprecedented change, there are plenty of things out of your control, but your internal communications aren’t one of them. Put you and your employees in the best position to weather any storm by communicating more often, being transparent when you do, responding to your employees’ needs, and approaching challenges as a unified, positive, and focused team. You might not be able to predict what the future holds, but you can make the most of the present.