BrokenCompanyCulture TeamBuffalo

5 Culture killing comms mistakes during a crisis

You’re invariably dealing with constant change as we navigate Covid-19 (Coronavirus), economic uncertainty and people’s fears.

I’ve seen my fair share of changes, having been on the front-lines during the GFC and leading a business through redundancies, economic uncertainty and all the emotions that come with it.

Regardless of where you are, you can not afford to screw up your comms. I’ve been working closely with my coaching and consulting clients to help them rise to the evolving need.

Unfortunately, what I’ve seen going on with some companies outside of those clients with leaders across Perth and Australia is causing absolute mayhem and killing company cultures.

Here are the five ways your communication is destroying your culture and causing your employees to go into self-preservation mode…and what you can do instead.

1. Emails about financial or employment uncertainty

I had an email from a business get shared with me on Monday. This email (not client-related) told employees a loss of jobs was a possibility and that the business couldn’t predict where and when that might happen.

While we should applaud the transparency, sending that via email to all staff across the business is a terrible way to communicate this. What message does it send to your staff (and eventually your customers) about a business that tells people they might be losing their job…via email?!?!

Instead: Don’t send an email about this. Ever. Instead, assemble a quick ‘all hands meeting’ to communicate it directly to everyone at once and answer questions where possible. If you can’t do that, have the team leaders call every single employee and update them. Give those leaders talking points so they can respond to questions that might arise.

NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, PEOPLE WILL REMEMBER HOW YOU TREATED THEM THROUGHOUT THIS TRICKY TIME.

Which brings me to my next point…

2. Out of hours communication

That same email was sent on a Sunday night to a team that is predominantly office-based and works during the week. If they receive the email Sunday night, it’ll cause uncertainty and stress. If they receive it Monday morning and see it went out Sunday, they’ll wonder what’s happened since then and why it was sent on the Sunday.

Instead: Don’t send that email on Sunday. If you’re too busy to send it Monday morning, schedule it via email scheduler (a feature built into all email services) to send automatically Monday at 8 AM. I’d turn your attention back to point 1 though, but if you have to do an email for some odd reason, do it at a time where you’ll be around and people are working… but really just don’t send it.

3. Moving too slowly on critical updates

Ever heard of the grapevine effect? It’s when information gets leaked internally and takes on a life of its own. The truth gets lost and warped into something completely off-tilt. This happens when something is known/thought to be decided and gets leaked to the organisation through informal communication channels. You lose control of the narrative.

Instead: The moment you make a decision, communicate it to everyone it effects (as soon as you can). There is no good that’s ever come out of holding back on this. If staff find out you withheld known decisions then they’ll lose trust in you and start to fend for themselves. Communicate ASAP and create certainty amongst staff that you’ll share information as soon as possible.

4. Under-communicating

In circumstances like the ones we are in now, overcommunicating trumps under-communicating. If we are uncertain where something will land, that’s ok. If we aren’t sure what will happen, tell people that. Don’t pretend it’s all ok while the building is on fire, people will think you’re either a liar or incompetent; neither of those are good…

Instead: Tell the team what we do know, just like that rough example did (something I applaud that company for doing right). If we are still working through a decision or waiting for more info, tell them that too. Also, tell them when they can expect the new update (daily or every other day at this stage is appropriate if your business is going through constant changes). In the last decade of consulting, I’ve never seen a change management problem come from over-communicating, it has always been the opposite.

5. Lack of clarity around what they actually should be doing to help

For leaders who’ve gotten the first four things right, I’ve seen something amazing happen. People have banded together and gone all in. The challenges businesses are facing now can’t be solved by one genius leader with all the answers. You need everyone committed and working at full capacity. That can only happen if you help them understand how.

When staff are unclear what they should do to help, they start to feel helpless.

Instead: Work with your team leaders to mobilise everyone. Don’t underestimate the importance of telling someone that they can help by continuing to do their job the way they’ve done it for the last X months. That can be reassuring. Conversely, if someone needs to get out of their comfort zone and pick up a shovel, tell them that too.

Let people know what they need to do to make this work and they will. If they don’t, then you get to have that difficult conversation…but that’s a topic for another day.

DON’T LET THESE FIVE CULTURE KILLING COMMS MISTAKES DEVASTATE YOUR BUSINESS AT A TIME WHERE IT’S MOST IN NEED.

YOU’VE GOT THE TALENT, GET THEM IN THE GAME.

– Travis

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