The mantra in the world of professional corporate information officers is, “carry your own message… or someone will carry one for you”. The meaning clearly is, if you as a leader wish to reside on the front of the “information wave”, communicate Intentionally as early and as often as possible. Making time to thoughtfully and carefully craft your thoughts and messages to your customers, stakeholders and team members will place you in the position of having your message be the first and most trusted that these important people consider.
Communicating with intention means a great deal more than putting something out on a regular basis. The investment of time and intention that goes into strategic planning for your company is extensive. Most experts would contend that the same level of preparation and planning is necessary to use communication in a manner that “guides” in addition to “informing” your audience.
Where to Start
Thinking in advance about the tools you have at your disposal (e-mail, texting, automated calling, social media platforms, video messages, traditional mail) for rapid and extensive communication is the starting point.
Considering how each can be used most effectively and with the intention is step two.
Considering how these forms of communication can be leveraged to bring about the maximum collective effect is the third and most important point.
In an absence of information, the worst-case scenario will emerge!
As the columnist Dave Barry reminds us, “gossip is the most dangerous weapon on the planet”.
The lack of intentional communication, particularly in a crisis, will create very fertile ground for gossip to grow and misinformation to spread. Trying to address all of the misinformation after it has been shared, tweeted, retweeted, Instagrammed, posted on Facebook, and read by thousands is simply a losing game.
When we “wait to see what happens” or worse, share information that is not credible, then the only option the leader will be left with is damage control.
Prevarication and inaccurate information are the worst enemies of effective leadership because they compromise trust. Avoidance of the facts, avoidance of communicating the facts, and avoidance of dealing with the facts, will ensure that a difficult situation will become far worse.
Delivering the Bad News
Delivering bad news is never easy. There will be times during a crisis where bad news will need to be shared.
Remember, allowing even pieces of bad news to emerge through the rumor mill is not in the best interest of the organization.
Go to the pressure! Face the issue, and remember the simple adage to “speak the truth, give hope, listen and show the way forward”. This applies to one on one conversations where you may be needing to lay off and employee temporarily, or when communicating to the entire team.
Getting the Details Right
As one considers communicating in a difficult situation, it is important that the message be strong, carefully worded, and contain a clear explanation of the facts. Being intentional about the main points that you will cover and covering them is important; don’t inadvertently leave out critical information.
“What we do know” about the near and longer-term future, and “what we do not know” must be clearly imparted and updated frequently.
Intentional communication must contain empathy for all who are impacted and their families.
Lastly, it must contain some words that will preface the next steps and future communication.
As previously mentioned, the goal in tough times is to be the source of information that your people trust and on which they depend. As the way forward begins to emerge from the fog of uncertainty, take the opportunity to reach out, and share the pieces that are becoming clear.
Remember to speak the truth and in tough times be sure to “under promise and over deliver” for your team members.
It is most enjoyable as a leader to build trust with our teams when times are good.
However, the people that you lead will remember your actions in difficult times with clarity and appreciation many years into the future!
For more insight into best practices of communication and leadership for your organization, check out our other blogs here.
Tim, with his extensive background in education and management, is a great part of our Fired Up! team dedicated to inspiring teams and leaders. At Fired Up!, our work is dedicated to harnessing the power of culture to equip leaders, build amazing teams, and align operation practices to engage organizations and drive breakthrough results.