In times of disruption communicating the right information to the right people at the right time is critical. And knowing beforehand who will do this in the moment is also vitally important. Does the responsibility to get the messages out to every one fall solely on the shoulders of leaders, or can it be shared?
While there can be a risk in sharing the load, having a clear communication strategy enables you and your leadership team to support people effectively. It empowers your leaders because they have clear roles to play in the strategy and if implemented consistently, it provides certainty to your stakeholders. This, in turn, builds trust and enables your organisation or community to become more resilient.
At this current time of rapid disruption of global economies, health, education, travel, tourism, and almost every other sector, there have been some wonderful examples of authentic, adaptive leadership in locked down New Zealand.
Most notably the communication from our Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and Dr Ashley Bloomfield, the Director-General of Health. Both have provided an outstanding example of how communication enables people to feel settled, come together and work towards a shared goal. Their style of communication has successfully created an ecosystem of care across the country.
And as New Zealanders work together towards eliminating the COVID-19 virus, I am confident that our communities stand a really good chance of eliminating this disease from our shores.
Working with leaders across the country, we have seen many great examples where communication has enabled communities to quickly grasp what is happening, recognise their role in the situation and perhaps most importantly, to relax (somewhat) and become supporters of the approach the leaders are taking in managing this very fluid situation.
How to create a rapid communications strategy
If you want to create a rapid communications strategy, the design thinking process can be a great starting point, because, by its very nature, it helps you to empathise with the needs of your audience. It can be a very quick way to identify stakeholder needs and helps to guide your thinking towards creating suitable processes and solutions.
Here is a suggested process to create a rapid communications strategy:
- Define your stakeholders
- Identify their key needs
- Define your communication channels
- Delegate and monitor
- Respond? Revisit?
Define your stakeholders
Global research company Gallup has identified four universal needs that followers have of leaders: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. These needs, (explored in this Gallup blog post Remember the Needs of Followers during Covid-19) are primarily emotional, and they become especially urgent during crises.
The quality of leaders’ communication forms the foundation that supports these four universal needs to flourish. Effective communication helps people to feel in control, to feel cared for and to give them hope that there is a way forward. It has the result of increasing resilience and creating a culture of care.
Consider your external and internal stakeholders as the audience(s) you serve. If you are leading a school, your internal stakeholders include staff, students, your Board of Trustees and PTA. Your external stakeholders include the parent community, local iwi and other organisations such as the Ministry of Education.
If you are a business or non-profit organisation, this might include staff as internal stakeholders, and clients, suppliers and funders as external stakeholders.
Identify their key needs
Once you have identified each stakeholder group, it is time to consider their needs. Consider these questions as prompts to help:
- What are the top three needs this group has right now?
- What is the *best way to communicate with them?
- Who is the best person(s) to communicate with this group?
- How frequently do they need information?
Some of your stakeholders will need closer communications than others. *This might involve phone calls to some, regular emails to others, some information will go onto your social media channel(s) and other information is best on a website. There are quite a mixture of channels and options to consider!
It is important to note that peoples’ needs will change over time too, so this is a fluid exercise that you’ll need to revisit regularly. As an example, our team has two opportunities each week for face to face interaction:
- A weekly ‘check-in’ with no agenda – this is to check on how everyone is doing, socialise, and build relationships. Oftentimes we will discuss professional matters, but not always.
- A weekly ‘focus meeting’ with an agenda – this is to help us move our plans forward.
Another example that many teachers are implementing around the world at the moment, as they deliver distance teaching and learning, is a daily check-in process that provides students (and sometimes parents) a means to let them know how they are doing.
Define your communication channels
Many organisations already have clear communication channels. If yours could do with improvement though, then this is a great chance to clarify what each one is for. Here is an example;
- Social media – Facebook – connection and community building, commentary and opinion, sharing resources,
- Social media – Twitter – engaging with like-minded people, amplifying messages, causes, and ideas, and keeping up to date with current affairs/relevant interests
- Social media – LinkedIn – commentary and opinion, sharing resources and ideas
- Public website – services, organised and searchable resources, newsletter updates
- Internal portal site/intranet – procedures, explanations, FAQs, resources/etc for staff
- Phone/video conference – checking in on staff/students
Being able to access a ‘single source of truth’ is vital in a crisis situation. This could be held in your intranet/staff portal for internal communications, and on your website for any external communications.
If you work in education, our free student portal template will get you started with a channel to communicate with your students. We also have a range of resources to support you with working remotely, whatever type of business you work in.
Delegate and monitor
To help share the load, it’s helpful to identify who the best person(s) is to communicate with which group. It’s also critical to establish patterns and routines that maintain a connection in a fast-moving crisis situation.
For example, you may have team leaders whose job is to check in on the wellbeing/hauora of staff twice a week. In a school situation, if you are responsible for managing learning assistants, you will need to re-think how these staff have had their routines disrupted and what new routines could support them. It is good practice to put on your leadership meeting agenda who is to report back each week so that you can keep a finger on the pulse.
Implementation and maintenance
Once you have identified your stakeholder groups, and specified their needs and the ways in which communication will flow, you will then, of course, need to implement and maintain your plan.
Setting aside time each week for working on ongoing communications by making it a part of your senior leadership workflow every week, and sometimes every day is the most effective way to do this.
By so doing, you’ll be better placed to meet the emotional needs of your people, building trust, compassion, stability, and hope among all your stakeholders, which all work towards helping you to create an ecosystem of care within your organisation.
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