How do you manage a communication plan for a crisis with no end in sight?
Lanyi first tackles the issue of pivoting plans in response to ongoing pandemic fallout. It’s been tremendously difficult for comms pros, he says, as most plans are built around specific scenarios. This pandemic has unfolded more like chapters of a long, complex story—one without a clear ending.
Lanyi believes there are many more chapters to come, and it’s up to communicators to tailor and update their messaging to match where their companies are in the current moment. In addition to timely updates, he says it’s also wise to continue planning for specific events that may unfold.
“It’s not too late to write up those scenarios, and plan against them,” he advises. He offers one potential scenario: the possibility of bringing employees back to the office, only for a spike in COVID-19 cases to spark another statewide shutdown. “It’s a real possibility, so you should plan your communication accordingly,” he says.
As for the next phase of communication regarding workplace reopenings, Lanyi advises following 3 C’s:
- Coordination. Stay aligned with what public health experts are advising. Coordinate with local entities to ensure your company complies with whatever rules or regulations are in effect for your area.
- Clarity. “Make sure there’s no ambiguity there,” Lanyi says. “Be specific about return to work details, including how exactly you plan to keep employees protected.”
- Compassion. Everything you write should be with a spirit of understanding what people are going through. Right now, that’s fear, uncertainty and anxiety, Lanyi says. Employees are concerned about their health and their family’s health—and they have specific questions about your company’s plans to keep everyone safe. “Be empathetic, honest and transparent,” Lanyi says, and “provide channels for feedback” to ensure your plans are respectful and representative of employees’ wishes.
Staying the course—together
Right now, it’s crucial for everyone in your organization to continuously be on the same page with current, accurate information. The price of misinformation or confusion could be devastating for morale and engagement, so Lanyi advises a quick daily meeting for crisis teams to ensure messaging is crystal-clear.
Ensuring clarity and consistency includes the consideration of choosing your spokesperson wisely. Employees and the public often want accountability and insights from top brass, but the best choice is not always the CEO. If your CEO is a natural communicator who emanates empathy, great. If not, choose someone who is and does.
As for what’s coming next, Lanyi sees big changes coming—but not all bad. He believes communicators should embrace the uncertainty and not shrink back from not knowing what to say. All this chaos provides an opportunity to establish transparency and genuine trust with employees, but they must have the humility to say, “I don’t know,” he says. The challenge moving forward will be hammering out a narrative that’s honest, useful and reassuring for your audience—despite not knowing how this story will end.
Nick Lanyi is an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group. An independent writer and communications consultant, he led the public affairs practice in the D.C. office of Porter Novelli and was managing director at public affairs boutique LMG. Contact Kristin Hart at KristinH@ragan.com to learn more about RCG. Follow RCG on LinkedIn.