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5 tips for internal communication during a crisis

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The waters are choppy. There aren’t a lot of answers in the world right now. But that won’t stop employees from looking for them from their leaders. The spotlight is on executives to communicate effectively during this crisis. As Aron Ain, CEO of a 6,000-person company, puts it:

“When they’re truly choppy, in a negative way, you have to communicate even more than normal.”

PI has gone through restructuring, rightsizing, and moving fully remote in the past three weeks. Throughout it all, our leadership team has kept everyone in the loop regarding pivotal decisions, through a multitude of channels.

Our content team interviewed PI President and Chairman Daniel Muzquiz, as well as Jackie Dube, Senior Vice President of Talent Optimization, for this video so we could pass on their wisdom to you. Here are five tips for internal communication that you can check yourself against:

Tip #1: Transparency is king (but make sure you have the knowledge).

Daniel Muzquiz: There’s this saying about ‘nobody likes being treated like a mushroom’ and I’m no different, right? Being kept in the dark and fed organic matter. I think that applies to everybody. So when it comes to it, the more [employees] know, the less they have to make the story up themselves.

Of course, this is easier in theory. What if you don’t have all of the answers yet, but still want to be transparent? Well, there’s a very helpful equation for this.

DM: The more certain it becomes, the more broad your audience becomes.

That is to say, keep people in the loop with your guiding principles and how leadership is leaning, but don’t cause unnecessary panic with uncertain information.

Tip #2: Host a weekly town hall meeting.

Every Friday afternoon, we host an internal webinar with our senior leadership as panelists. We call it PI TV.

Jackie Dube: PI TV has become the kind of end-of-the-week regroup of the entire company in a very casual format where it’s a question and answer session. So, employees can ask whatever they want. They get to see the entire management team in a very casual setting. And, you know, it’s a good way to end the week and it’s a way to get transparent, direct communication out to the team.

Try something similar with your company. Allow for anonymous questions and be transparent with your answers.

Tip #3: Take a pulse by using surveys and polls.

At PI, we use an engagement survey to measure how employees are feeling across four factors of disengagement: job, manager, team, and organization.

But if your company doesn’t have something as defined as this, one free software you could try is Mentimeter.

During your next all-hands, put out a simple poll to the company and see how everyone is feeling. Remind everyone that the answers are anonymous, and encourage candid responses. 

Communicating with alumni after a reduction in force should be a priority.

 

Tip #4: If you have to do a reduction in force, alumni come first.

Okay, let’s talk about the hard decision for a second. When it comes to communicating about a reduction in force, it’s important to take care of alumni even more than those who stay at the company.

DM: And that goes against the common wisdom that says you need to focus on your survivors. But the reality is, anybody who stays with the company, the first thing they look at is: How did you treat the people that left? How did you treat my friends? They’re no longer here. And you can lose all the trust with the people who stay if you don’t treat the people who left in a very gracious, empathetic, and genuine way.

Besides giving alumni severance, career resources, and extended benefits, one of the biggest things you can do is check in on them. After all, a layoff should be thought of as a months-long process, not a transaction.

Keep track of sentiment even from the moment of letting them know the bad news.

JD: In each of our phone calls, we had a rating system and that was [applied] in the response that the employee had, one through three. And that really helped us prioritize from a people perspective and where we needed to lend our support first. So calls that maybe the reaction wasn’t as good or we felt that the person would have more questions, or whatever it may be, were rated a three. So we knew the following day it was important for us to reach out and talk to those people. 

Tip #5: Be authentic, yet optimistic.

The world is incredibly uncertain and the economy is sinking a little bit. There’s a lot of value in being a vulnerable leader and empathizing with concerns right now. Maybe you should even take a day off and share it with the company to encourage others to practice self-care.

But, whatever you do, don’t convey a sentence of hopelessness. Talk about the future.

DM: Because the more you talk about the future of the company, the more likely the company is to have a future. And the reality is you can’t be tone deaf in that, but you also can’t omit it from the conversation because people want hope, they want something to look forward to. 

You need a pragmatic optimism because that is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to lead through adversity.

Maverick

Connor is the video producer at PI. He composed and directed an original musical.

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