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Dos and don'ts for high-impact management communications

How can business leaders adapt the way they communicate with their remote working teams to have more impact? 

We asked Annie Slowgrove, founder and CEO of executive coaching consultancy Fearless Engagement, about how to effectively lead and motivate employees when everyone is working remotely.

For business leaders, communication with their teams is more important now that it has ever been. Staying in touch with your employees, direct reports and colleagues is allowing us to keep our businesses operating, while reminding us all that we’re not alone – we’re in this together.

Be empathetic to the human cost of this crisis. First and foremost, our economy will recover, but our people may not! As leaders, they’re going to need our support and understanding. Communicate the challenge with transparency and optimism, conveying empathy for how people may feel.

Remember that in any kind of crisis, let alone one like this, change disrupts people’s expectations of their future. It unsettles their dreams and plans, reducing their sense of control. On average, the mental noise we each experience reduces our ability to process information by 80%, meaning that, under stress, people have difficulty hearing, understanding and recalling information. So, be empathetic and supportive. 

Dos and don'ts for high-impact management communications

Dos

Keep messages concise and clear. Despite 30-minute virtual town hall meetings, or the email updates explaining all the ins-and-outs of your company’s response to the virus, maybe you aren’t breaking through the noise. So, keep the messages clear and concise, and think about using graphics, visual aids, analogies and personal anecdotes, which can improve processing by more than 50%.

  • Be transparent and frequent with your updates. Let transparency pervade your intentions, direction, actions, communications, feedback and problem solving. It will reap rewards beyond what you thought possible. If not, you will destroy future trust and loyalty, not to mention performance.
  • Be led by your values. Transparency is your ‘first job’ in any crisis. Be clear what you know, what you don’t know, and what you are doing to learn more.  This is a constant and consistent message that needs reinforcing through the network of teams you create.
  • Act with purposeful integrity through thoughtful, frequent communication. Show that you are following the situation and adjusting your responses as you learn more. This helps to reassure employees that you are confronting the crisis and thinking about them as you use thoughtful language of emotion and stability, being there for them, leading them towards a safe and more stable future.
  • Take great care to make sure that each audience’s concerns, questions, and interests are addressed. If this isn’t possible at the time, it’s crucial to follow up and signpost when it will be possible. Consider having some of your network team members speak first-hand about what they are doing.


Don'ts

  • Do not take an overconfident, upbeat tone in the early stages of a crisis. This can give rise to employees’ suspicions about what leaders know and how well they are handling the crisis. It can erode trust. 
  • Do not hold back important information or suspend announcements for long stretches while you wait for more facts to emerge and decisions to be made. This also erodes trust, confidence and respect. If you fail to tell the truth at the time, this confuses people and is seen as deceitful. 
  • Do not beat around the bush. If it’s not the whole truth, if it’s vague and requires preparation and too much word-smithing, if you need to remember the details to ensure that you don’t change your story in the retelling, your are probably telling a lie. This may be unintended, but all the same, it has the impact of eroding trust.
  • Don’t be inconsistent. Do what you say you will do, every time, all the time, without exception. If you can’t for some reason, tell your people why!


As you look to the future, begin adapting communications towards offering an optimistic and realistic outlook. This can have a powerful effect on employees, inspiring them to support the organization’s recovery.  

The critical things your overall communication style need during any crisis are transparency, purposeful calmness, overt optimism with an ear on reality, and positive message of unity: “we will get through this; together.”  

 

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