Leadership communication in a crisis: the essentials

Mark Terry - April 21, 2020

When it comes to tackling a major crisis, employers need two primary weapons at their disposal: Clear communication, and trusted systems in place to manage internal communications. With these in place, internal communications can become targeted, focused and relevant, allowing colleagues to come together to maximise productivity and allow the business to grow and evolve.

In March 2020, the lives of many business owners changed forever with the arrival of Covid-19. Overnight, members of the public were quarantined, non essential workers ordered to stay home, and business owners faced one of the largest emergencies of their careers.

Crisis vs. routine workplace emergencies

Leonard and Howitt divide potential workplace emergencies into two distinct categories: crisis, and routine. Both require a different approach by leaders according to the circumstances. Creating a successful game plan to be put into action early on can make a significant difference to the effectiveness of the company long-term. This move can also have a positive impact on employee happiness and wellbeing. Communication in a crisis situation is imperative, and the problems faced can be very unique and unprecedented. 

As the name suggests, a routine emergency is one in which there is a precedent; a similar situation may have occurred previously, or it may be a natural element of the workplace or business. A crisis emergency, however, is something totally different. Howard and Leonard refer to a “landscape scale” crisis, which is defined as:


“an unexpected event or sequence of events of enormous scale and overwhelming speed, resulting in a high degree of uncertainty that gives rise to disorientation, a feeling of lost control, and strong emotional disturbance.”

Howard and Leonard

This is a description that fits the current coronavirus to a tee, and demonstrates the extreme importance in the way in which business leaders face the event. The choices made can really test internal communication channels, and play a significant role in many aspects of the company's future.

There are a few main skills which leaders will need to equip themselves with to succeed, and these include:

  • Organisation of teams, including selection and elevation of leaders and making decisions amid uncertainty
  • Demonstrating empathy and recognising the human cost of a crisis
  • Maintaining transparent, regular and clear communicating with employees during a crisis

By honing these areas, employers and business owners will be able to maximise internal and external communication, helping everyone to manage the crisis in the best way.

30 ideas to engage your employees and transform your business.

Organisation of teams

Crisis communication in a digital world is a unique challenge, but also one which offers possibilities for collaborative working even in unusual circumstances. The ability to communicate information across an organisation is essential, and allows company-wide collaboration for easy exchange of ideas and information.

This is the time for delegation; in this route, you will demonstrate the most effective leadership. Unlike most situations, this is not the time for a small, select group at the top to determine the next steps; they will simply be unable to collate information and make decisions quickly enough. Instead, consider using a network of teams; this allows several groups to work together collaboratively and share what they do across the organisation. These groups can then be headed by the best worker for the job. 

Such a set-up means that decisions can be made and actions taken as and when needed, rather than being required to travel through a sometimes convoluted chain of command. In order for this model  to succeed, clear, effective internal communication tools are essential.

Demonstrating empathy via workforce protection

This should be one of your key priorities during a so-called ‘landscape’ crisis. Colleagues and team members need to feel that they are part of the business, and that their actions, work and ideas are valued. Protecting your workforce when things are tough helps to provide confidence in their value and abilities, and this is sure to be remembered once you are through the other side.

Colleague outreach is an integral element of this, and one of the biggest challenges a business leader will face. One of the biggest internal communication mistakes is to forget about those who are not physically present, or whose circumstances mean that they are unable to participate in everyday work.

There is an assumption in many industries that workers will simply be able to carry out their jobs from home, but this is not always possible. Whether due to lack of resources, concerns around security or mere practicality, there may be members of your team right now stuck at home with no connection to their work. This is damaging for both individual and collective morale; feeling isolated can have a significantly detrimental impact on team spirit, innovation and creativity.

As a business owner, your role involves more than merely physically keeping jobs available for workers. You also have a duty to maintain good, open lines of communication, to recognise the human casualty of such an emergency as opposed to merely financial catastrophe, and to communicate this empathy to your workers.

Stay In Touch

To keep your team in tip-top condition, staying in touch needs to be your number one priority. Talkfreely allows you to remain in constant communication, even if your team is unable to work from home, and should be a key element of your internal communication strategy. A landslide emergency means that you will have to totally rethink your approach, but including this weapon in your arsenal keeps you ahead of the game.

Help your business tackle the unexpected; with a single simple change, you can transform your business, and keep your team together.


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