Last updated: What to say to employees: 5 themes for leaders during crisis

What to say to employees: 5 themes for leaders during crisis


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Just before the weekend started, Boaz Grinvald, Chief Executive Officer of Revuze, a customer insights and AI technology company, held a virtual happy hour with employees.

Like many companies around the world trying to run their businesses right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, Revuze employees are working from home, but staying connected to one another through regular online team meetings – and learning how and when to connect is an important lesson for leaders during crisis.

Happy hour last week was one of those times to connect. Bring your own beverage, so to speak, turn on your webcam, and jump online to chitchat with colleagues.

During the online gathering, Boaz emphasized to employees that the company’s priority is the health of their employees. It was the right message.

“Encouragement is the role (of leadership) right now,” Boaz says. “Show hope and progress. You can’t change reality, but you can make people feel better about it. You have to show camaraderie, keep people safe, build a good atmosphere, and be proud to fight the good fight together.”

Deciding what to say and when to say it: 5 themes for leaders during crisis

Many leaders are indeed wondering what to say to employees right now as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Over the past few days, I’ve talked with several of them. And while the situation is difficult and unprecedented for many, some key themes emerged in how leaders are, or want to be, talking to employees now.

Here are those themes:

1. Cadence

Especially during prolonged disruptions, a cadence for employee communication is important. Set up a time, date, and location for when employees can expect to hear from you, no matter what. Communicate the schedule to employees and keep the commitment.In a past life during a near six-month crisis, two C-level execs from my agency committed to weekly town hall meetings every Wednesday at noon.

Even if leadership had nothing new to report, the town hall meetings allowed leaders to rearticulate key messages and answer new questions from employees face-to-face.After the crisis subsided, town hall meetings continued for a few weeks and served as a communication channel for providing information, asking, and answering questions about getting back to business as normal. The regular cadence of updates helped to combat misinformation and build trust among employees.

2. Leadership

“Showing confidence is leadership’s number one job in a crisis,” says Michelle Batt, Customer Experience Leader, Speaker & Workshop Facilitator with Lead with CX, and founding member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA).

“You need to say, here’s what we know about the situation, this is not going to be easy, but we are going to get through it together. If people feel the leader is supporting them, employees will get behind the leader.”

3. Clarity

One time, an earthquake crumbled portions of the city where Michelle’s former company was headquartered. In keeping with their corporate values, the company donated money to help rebuild the city. They also encouraged employees to go into communities and help with relief efforts, such as distributing food and supplies to affected neighborhoods. But leadership needed to ensure employees had up-to-date resources and information about safe and unsafe locations where employees could go pitch in.

During times of crisis, clarity is usually in short supply, but messaging can be tailored to “Here’s what we know and here’s what you can do right now,” information. Michelle recommends using data and analytics to guide conversations.

4. Calm

“There’s nothing worse than a leader running around like a chicken with their head cut off in the chaos,” says Rosetta Lue, Founding Principal at GovCX, LLC. “You have to show customers and employees you’re there for them.”

5. Belonging

Finally, community. I didn’t expect to write about community, but Boaz’s remarks to Revuze employees about being “proud to fight the good fight together” struck a chord because recognizing community is indeed part of a business leadership mindset.

Communities include people who become a group because of their individual commitment to a common goal.Like other communities, such as a mom’s group or neighborhood coffee club, employee groups can find strength in one another in all sorts of circumstances and from there, find a way forward. Leaders can leverage the power of that community.

Emotional intelligence isn’t a buzzword, it’s a requirement 

In times of crisis, business leaders are expected to be role models, but may not have the answers. They may also feel sadness and confusion—anything but confidence—while trying to remain compassionate toward staff and customers while trying to balance the sustainability of their business. This was the case for the CEO of one small business I spoke with who asked to remain anonymous.

The precise words and venues you choose for talking with employees are up to you, but taking an approach that involves a cadence, confidence, calm, clarity, and recognition of employees as a community can have a beneficial impact on employee experience and trust during these times of crisis and uncertainty.

HR, better.
Employees, happier.
Businesses, healthier.
It’s time to modernize the employee experience.

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