With the COVID-19 pandemic tightening its grip on America once again, our mask-free summer may soon be coming to an end.
Following a massive vaccine rollout this past spring, many businesses and organizations eased up on COVID-19 precautions, preparing for a much awaited return to normalcy. But with the Delta variant ravaging large parts of the country, leaders are beginning to reverse course again as they prepare for what many experts predict will be a fourth wave of the virus.
This whiplash has put the leaders of businesses and organizations in an extremely difficult position. They bear the responsibility of communicating another round of potential policy changes to their employees and customers, many of whom are frustrated at the prospect of masking up and social distancing all over again.
How can leaders communicate with authority and assurance in the face of such overwhelming uncertainty and unpredictability?
Crisis Communication Requires Honesty, Transparency, and Clarity
In the PR world, the need for crisis messaging and support is nothing new. Folks in my industry know full well that the keys to effective communication during a difficult time are honesty, transparency, and clarity.
People easily lose confidence in their leaders during crisis situations, but executives who are present and responsive can avoid this fate. To do so, leaders must convey information in a straightforward manner while making themselves available for questions, comments, and feedback that may arise.
Here are a few strategies I recommend:
4 Tips for Communicating Uncertainty to Employees and Customers:
- Don’t make snap decisions. Before resolving to reinstate mask mandates or social distancing guidelines, conduct your due diligence. Your decision will hold more weight with employees and customers if it’s aligned with what’s happening around you. Look to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local officials for guidance—and even for messaging ideas.
- Set concrete expectations. During a time of great uncertainty, setting expectations is tricky but necessary. You may not know when you’ll have another update to share. But make it clear to your customers and employees that you’re closely monitoring the situation and will let them know immediately if anything changes.
- Be timely. There are no hard and fast rules about frequency of communication. The key is to make sure it happens in a timely manner—ideally, as close to real-time as possible. If the governor announces a new policy change that impacts your employees and customers on a Wednesday, don’t wait until Friday to update them. They deserve a leader who keeps them in the loop.
- Use existing channels of communication. When dispensing COVID-19 updates to employees and customers, rely on previously established channels to communicate proactively. If you send a regular email newsletter to customers, include any new information in that content. Tell them ahead of time about any policy changes (such as a mask mandate) so they aren’t surprised when they show up at your place of business or event.
Communicating a clear and honest message helps leaders build credibility and trust among employees and customers. Take this opportunity to demonstrate that you’re a standup leader willing to do whatever it takes to navigate this uncertainty and help keep your people as safe as possible.
You may be (mentally) done with COVID-19. But COVID-19 isn’t finished with any of us. If you would like support communicating with customers and employees during this challenging time, I’m here to help. Get in touch to learn more.