Explaining the Wall Street meltdown

What communicators can do to calm fears, improve understanding and start a conversation about what happens next. Video

What communicators can do to calm fears, improve understanding and start a conversation about what happens next

Did you see it coming?

Even before the recent stock market crashes, before the Wall Street meltdown—and yes—even before Henry Paulson became a household name, anxious Americans knew something was amiss. Though no one could predict the economic earthquake of the past two weeks, many felt the rumbling below.

When the crisis hit, many of us worried about our financial security, starting with our jobs. Would our companies be forced to cut back? Were our jobs safe? Were our 401(k)s disappearing before our eyes?

CEO Mark Ragan provides suggestions on how to address the economic crisis to employees.

The top organizations are defined by how they handle the bad times, not the good. And that’s why the communications profession has never been more important.

So here’s the question: Assuming you’re still at your cubicle, what are you doing to address the worst economic setback since the Great Depression?

In this first in a series of articles on Ragan.com, we’ll do our part to help. Today’s story will explain why communicators must meet the financial disaster head on and suggest some steps you should take to get people talking.

“We have to consider employee communications necessary—not just nice to have,” explained senior Ragan consultant Patrick Williams. “It’s the last thing we should get rid of in an economic downturn.”

Talk to employees, encourage leaders

Employees, like everyone else, are clearly worried about today’s economic tailspin. In the absence of clear information from their company, they will assume the worst. Most are looking for straight answers to two basic questions, said Jim Ylisela, president of Ragan Consulting:

  • What does this mean to our company?
  • What does this mean to me, as part of this company?

Morale and productivity will take a serious hit if workers are distracted by these looming questions. “As communicators we need to give employees the information they need,” Williams said. “The role of information in an age of uncertainty is to reduce that uncertainty—not that we can eliminate it, but we can reduce it.”

Ylisela added: “This is an opportunity for leaders to actually do what we expect our leaders to do—step forward without being asked, explain to people where things stand, answer their questions and calm their fears.”

And real leadership requires everyone in the company to act, including three major groups.

  • Executives. “They need to explain the ‘what’ in clear and simple terms,” said Ylisela. “What does this mean for our company—and our industry?”
  • Managers. They should be prepared to answer the more detailed—and perhaps more personal—questions employees want to ask their direct supervisors.
  • Employees. Rank-and-file employees have communications responsibilities as well. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to consume the materials the company provides,” Williams said. “And it’s everyone’s responsibility to disagree with people you think are wrong.” Employees also need to ask good questions and demand information, instead of being driven by rumor and innuendo, Ylisela added.

What you can do to calm nerves

Here are some steps you can take as communicator to help calm nerves and encourage leadership among all employees.

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