One of the fastest ways a company stands out from the crowd (for better or for worse) is how they communicate with the world when facing difficult circumstances. The tone that is set during these challenging times will resonate far and wide.
It is likely that your company will experience a delicate situation at some point in the future. (Perhaps you’ve already been through one.) What’s most important is how you communicate internally — with your executive team, other company leadership, and your employees. It is this tone that will then be conveyed outside your company, so you want to be sure to do a great job communicating internally before doing anything else.
Rumors of layoffs, potential buyouts, and pending lawsuits can spread like wildfire through your organization. Those rumors are often more frightening than the situation itself. Honest, clear communication from company leadership can put a halt to speculation and ease fears that may otherwise halt productivity and focus.
Yes, at times the details are classified or confidential. But if an information leak has occurred, it is better to devise a communications strategy before the news spirals out of your control. Rumors flying around internally soon make it outside of your company walls, and the media can disseminate the information — whether it is true or not — faster than you can contain it.
After communicating what you can with your teams, relaying a unified and thoughtful message to the rest of the world becomes priority. Your investor and public relations departments will be key in crafting and then communicating your message. Press releases, media alerts, television or radio interviews, blog posts, and social media, when used properly, can all relay your message quickly and clearly.
Honesty and transparency mixed with some tact and thoughtful compassion is a great formula for setting the tone of your message.
Accessibility, willingness to communicate, and reasonable response times can halt negative reactions and criticism.
Setting expectations appropriately and then meeting those expectations keeps trust in tact. (It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver!)
When a sensitive situation arises, balance out your speed of response with the time it takes to craft a thoughtful response. A hasty reaction without considering all of the potential impacts it may have is a mistake. The phrase, “slow is steady, steady is smooth, smooth is fast” is a good one to remember here!
Above all else, remember that you’re dealing with people and their lives. The situation you’re handling will have an impact on your employees and your customers. By being willing to put the people first, ahead of the company, you’ll gain loyalty and trust.
Let me give you an example.
The popular investment show Shark Tank recently featured a small home-grown business run by a young couple. They literally ran their business out of their garage, had no employees, and made many of their products by hand. They received a rather large investment from one of the “Sharks” and the moment their episode aired on TV, they sold out of every bit of product they had in stock.
Even factoring in the show’s estimated increase in business based off of past companies’ experiences, they surpassed those estimates by over 100%. They had to scale, and quickly! The holiday season was approaching, they had tens of thousands of new customers, and they simply could not keep up with demand.
What did they do? They communicated! They communicated often. It was with honesty, integrity, and compassion. They did their very best to ramp up production, hire a team, set up multiple manufacturing and fulfillment partnerships, train an entire customer service department, and handle the overwhelming response to their product.
Were they perfect at this process? Absolutely not. Some of the promises they made still weren’t met, they still had a large amount of unhappy customers, and it took them a number of months to get on their feet. But through it all they communicated with grace. When they were all caught up, they sent out an apology email with a large discount coupon for a future purchase. I’m certain they retained most of their new customers.
No company knows exactly what is coming around the next corner. No team or individual will always make the right decision in how to communicate during a crisis. However, making wise communication a priority during the tough times will strengthen your relationship with your employees and your customers. It is absolutely essential to success.