Crazy happens. It’s life. Unpredictable and unexpected at times. As the Captain of your ship do you have a communication strategy with a clear vision and road map for the future?
A CEO whose company is hit with uncertainty or in crisis may be tempted to stonewall, withdraw or seek other evasive action. Stakes can be high. The way a business responds reveals a lot about its leadership. Handled in an open, forthright manner, a critical change of course can be controlled with minimal damage. Handled improperly, it can cause irreparable harm to both reputation and profits.
In times of uncertainty or crisis employees feel the ambiguity that circles the deck. Whenever there is change, your staff needs information and motivation to meet changing objectives, to make decisions that will ultimately affect the bottom line and the well-being of your organization.
The average employee cares less about the company’s bottom line and more about their own. Employees who get dragged into change do so kicking and screaming. Why? Change equals uncertainty. When there is uncertainty, the best employees jump ship. Simply because they can. The trick is not to hide the facts but to acknowledge its scariness and point out the potential rewards if people stay on the ship with you.
As a leader your goal is to reduce ambiguity and uncertainty. When you share truthful information – in a complete and timely manner – you diminish the desire for employees to jump. A perceived reluctance to share information heightens fear and uncertainty, making it much more difficult for CEOs to instill a sense of order and productivity. In an information vacuum, tension increases – a natural human response where major change is involved. The best leaders anticipate this response and prepare for it with an open, deliberate communications strategy.
Steps to fight the wave of uncertainty:
Communicate as early as possible – and always within a broader context than just the nuts and bolts of the change initiative.
Explain the underlying causes in a clear, concerned, consistent manner and connect with their hearts as well as their minds.
Know what’s going to change and why. If you haven’t got the change message straight, it’s virtually impossible for anyone else to understand.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. One common mistake is assuming that once communicated, the message has been totally absorbed. An important message needs to be followed up fairly rapidly.
Listen to others. Change initiatives should be inclusive. Create opportunities for employees to express their concerns and offer their ideas.
Be honest. People can instinctively grasp the difference between truth, lies and the murky water in-between.
If you don’t know, say so. This honest, reasonable response is far preferable to making something up and being called on it later.
Display compassion. Remember that, during a crisis, employees want to know you care about them. Provide useful information. Listen to their concerns. Above all, let them see that you understand the nature of their distress.
Take responsibility. The CEO is the leader. He or she is ultimately responsible for making tough decisions in times of crisis. The leader who accepts that responsibility – who declines to point fingers at others or blame “larger” forces – is generally regarded with respect.
Remember problems occur when a leader’s vision isn’t communicated to the people who can help make it a reality. Great communication will help ensure your ship stays on course.