leadership

Can’t touch this! Communications and Change in times of COVID-19

“A pestilence does not have human dimensions, so people tell themselves that it is unreal, that it is a bad dream that will end,” Albert Camus wrote in The Plague.

beachThis rings very true, as we are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis that is currently developing. Change is hard. And today most of us find it hard to bear that something so invisible, so incomprehensible to us can have such a major impact on our plans and our lives.

As someone who advises and coaches organizations and their people how to move through change, seeing how we are trying to make sense of what is happening with COVID-19 as it unfolds has many parallels. Both are characterized by high uncertainty — about what is happening and what we should do about it, as individuals as well as a collective.

So I just wanted to write down and share some of my thoughts:

Understanding our brain and how it deals with change can help us better understand how we can deal with it. Neuroscience is a great place to start. Most of us know, that for our brain, the goal is survival. And it is very good at trying to meet that goal. To survive our brain needs to do two things; avoid threats like the saber-toothed tiger and to seek rewards like food or shelter. Both matter – but a threat is far more important. We can go without food and shelter for a while (although judging by the panic buying going on in my local supermarket you’d think otherwise). But if that tiger gets us…..

Our brain is a prediction machine always trying to make sense what is going on, what is happening to us, what it can do to protect us and how to make sure we survive.

So a feeling of uncertainty (or “threat” in fight or flight terms) leaves many of us thinking less clearly and having difficulties controlling our emotions. We start to perceive the world around us as much more hostile. This is where the uncertainty causes anxiety, leaving people struggling and asking many questions about what is happening, what we could or should do. Studies have shown, that we are more comfortable with certainty about a negative outcome than dealing with uncertainty itself.

With COVID-19, the facts around the situation are highly dynamic, there is very much we do not know yet. And that is why good and transparent change /crisis communication is key. When people feel there is a void, they try to fill it by coming together to make sense of what is going on which often can turn into the spread of misinformation. This can be dangerous.

The challenge now is to ensure that those who are managing responses from leaders to scientist to journalist diminish bad information, increase a trusting, transparent communication to decrease uncertainty and anxiety, and to make sure people can take the right decisions based on what we currently know is true.

Here are some of my tips for those communicating around COVID-19:

  • Keep communicating, talk about facts, debunk misinformation
    In times of change and crisis there is no “over communication”. Even if you have shared the story already a dozen times or more, the more people hear, the more they can process and understand. Remember that not everyone is always on the same level of understanding about what is happening yet. Talk about facts and debunk misinformation (constantly). It’s more important than ever to be clear and thorough, even if you feel like you’re repeating yourself again and again. Repetition in times of change is actually a good thing!
  • Use clear language and include context
    No one likes jargon. How many people truly understand what the term “community transmission” means or what quarantine is? So explain things in clear language. Also provide context in helping people understand more about how science works (what a great opportunity!) – from immune systems to scientific publishing, these subject are not only vital in communicating around COVID-19 but also are fascinating subjects in themselves.
  • Showcase competence
    The world needs to know and to appreciate that, science is a process and real people do science. So showcase these people, but make sure they are truly experts. In times like these it is especially important not to provide false balance. So stop showcasing people like anti-vaxxers or other deniers of scientific facts.
  • Explain what we do not know yet
    When working with change in organizations, I always advise on being as transparent as possible with their communications to alleviate as much uncertainty as possible. This means clearly communicating what we know, what will happen, what will not happen but just as much on what we don’t know yet. People have a lot of questions and it is ok to say that some we cannot answer yet. Just make sure to let them know that there are many people, such as researchers and scientists, who are working hard on finding answers we need.

  • Acknowledge fears and uncertainties.
    The worst thing I read or hear in the media (on – and offline) currently are the words “don’t panic”. Many people are worried and that is understandable in any situation where we cannot predict how it will end. So be respectful and acknowledge them and what they are feeling. Then provide these people with what reliable information we have to date , so that we can help them process the changes happening in a better way.

Yes, COVID-19 is a worldwide health crisis. It means that each and everyone of us needs to undertake specific actions to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities and the world. To master the coming changes, it will be critical to have good, constant, factual information that we can trust, to inform the actions that we need to take. That is why I would urge all leaders and communicators to use the right kind of communication that will help us in best responding to COVID-19 on an individual and collective level.

PS for those who like music, dancing, fun and positivity, check our my collaborative playlist on Spotify around songs in times of COVID-19 “Desinfect yourself, before you wreck yourself”

Feedback is not only about giving

Many companies spend a lot of time coaching managers on how to give feedback but little time is spent on how to receive it! Dealing with negative feedback is never easy. It can make us feel defensive which can impair on how we use it effectively. Having a better feel for how we can (or even if and when) we should respond is just as important as understanding how to give it.  Here are five empirically supported actions that can help with hearing critical feedback:

  1. Don’t rush to react
  2. Get more data
  3. Think about “public relations”
  4. Don’t be a martyr
  5. Remember that change is not your only option

If you want more insights, take a look at Tacha Eurich’s article in HRB.

How to empower employees

When your employees can use their natural talents in their job, they can  bring a positive presence to their work and can make a positive impact on the organization.  So what are some questions you as a manager can ask to gage what these talents are to then help best shape their roles and responsibilities? Here are some valuable ones from Gallup

  1. What do you know you can do well but haven’t done yet?
  2. What sorts of activities do you finish and think, “I can’t wait to do that again”? Or what are you doing — inside or outside work — when you’re truly enjoying yourself?
  3. What have you done well that you didn’t need someone to explain how to do?
  4. What have other people told you you’re great at doing?
  5. What activities are you doing when you are unaware of time passing?

 

 

There are many reasons not to change

I came across this nice picture the other day, showing us the many reasons against change. But my questions back would be “what is the risk of not changing?”.
Take some time today to reflect on what is stopping your company from making the needed changes.

Change

Company values drive behaviour


One of the most important dimensions of job satisfaction is how you feel about your employer’s mission.” writes Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at Cornell University. Futura1-1024x720

Values shape company behaviour. It is about how we treat employees, our customers, the type of products we build, the office environment we provide and much more. Most companies state values that usually always sound great, but actually are not shown in behaviours.

Some questions that leadership can ask themselves could be:

  • How do we live our values at this company?
  • What are stories and examples we can share that show how our values are put into practice?
  • When a department, team or individual does not stick to the company values are there consequences? And what would these look like?
  • How do we as leadership ensure that even when making difficult decision we can stay true to the company values?

 

 

 

 

Edelman Trust Barometer 2018

Screen-Shot-2018-01-22-at-22.28.58-768x373The World Economic Forum is Davos is always exciting. While economic and political elites are discussing what should be on the business and government agenda for 2018, the global communications community looks towards the results of the annual Edelman Trust Barometer.

Now in its 18th year, the barometer, which surveyed more than 33,000 adults across 28 countries, showed a big drop in trust. As a professional communicator my main takeaway is the increased trust in CEOs (first year in a long time!) and the decreased trust in “a person like you”. The latter is pretty big news, seeing as peer-to-peer communications had been the most trusted form of communication in recent years. Maybe we have realized we are living too much in echo chambers.

Social media companies have also lost trust, with 70% of respondents agreeing that they do not do enough to prevent unethical behaviors. With more than 30% of those surveyed believing that social media is not good for society it will be interesting where this opinion takes us and if the big tech companies will start to do some rethinking about their responsibilities to society.

It seems business is now expected to be an agent of change. Nearly two-thirds say that they would like CEOs to take the lead on policy change instead of waiting for government. As Edelman says: “There are new expectations of corporate leaders. Nearly 7 in 10 respondents say that building trust is the No. 1 job for CEOs, ahead of high-quality products and services.”

What’s the reality in your company? Have you noticed a decline in peer-to-peer communication? How can we tackle disinformation within companies? And what can communicators do to empower CEOs to become agents of change in today’s society?

 

You can read the full report here.

Who makes a better boss – men or women?

Gender doesn’t matter, talent does.  And when you know that between 2014 and 2016, only 15% of workers in Germany were engaged at work then it is more than urgent to take a look at the management culture and to not just hire for experience or skills but for the talent to truly work with and inspire people.

Read more in Gallup’s latest blog post.