A brief guide to effective leadership communication during the Covid-19 crisis

Effective leadership internal communication

The impact of Covid-19 has created huge uncertainty and emotional disruption.

With information hard to come by, and so many unknowns and inconsistencies, people have an increased desire for transparency and guidance.

How business leaders communicate during this period can help to create clarity, build resilience, and cut through the inertia that uncertainty can bring, charting a course for the future for their employees.

Much has been written about the importance of effective leadership communication during the Covid-19 crisis and how, without so many of the answers, leaders can achieve this.  Most of this has been based on the premise that how you communicate is as important as what you communicate.

The following principles provide a snapshot summary of how leaders should be engaging with colleagues throughout this period:

1.   Communicate clearly and regularly: communicating at a regular cadence provides valuable reassurance about the changing situation and assures employees that leaders are mindful of their concerns.  Clarity is equally as key, as vagueness can leave employees anxious and vulnerable to misinformation.

2.   Communicate openly and honestly: trust is never more important than in a crisis.  Leaders should be open and honest about where things stand and not be afraid to show vulnerability and say they don’t know if they don’t have the answer. Maintaining transparency will help to build trust and loyalty.

3.   Listen and communicate with empathy: without a strong sense of what employees are thinking, leaders cannot communicate effectively.  Leaders need to demonstrate active listening and empathy when communicating – if they only talk about the top things on their mind and don’t understand or address the main concerns of their employees, they will seem out of touch and trust levels will go down. One of the best examples of empathy I’ve seen recently is from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, who in an email to his staff explained the need to make difficult decisions as a result of the crisis. 

4.   Be visible: in times of change, there’s no substitute for leadership visibility in minimising anxiety and negative speculation.  Although today’s Covid-19 environment has made traditional face-to-face communication unachievable, digital communication can fill these gaps. Connecting with employees through video is an effective way for leaders to convey empathy, sincerity and authenticity.  Check out my blog for CIPR Inside, where I discuss how Microsoft Teams can be used to help leaders achieve this.

5.   Future focus: finally, the crisis will come to an end eventually, so it is vital that leaders establish and communicate a clear vision for how the organisation will emerge.  

Published by Tom McGovern

Tom McGovern is an internal communications specialist currently working in higher education. Tom has a background in PR and journalism but has been working in internal communication for the last five years. Tom also has an MBA and is passionate about supporting businesses and people to be at their best by revolutionising the way they communicate.

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