Trust and Transparency in Times of Crisis

July-August 2020
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Crises are inevitable for every company, organization or entity. As PR professionals we’re familiar with high-stress environments — and, generally speaking, comfortable with think-on-our-feet scenarios. If we do this kind of work long enough, we get used to unpredictable moments of chaos and can navigate the stickiest of situations.

And while the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, the countless organizations and industries battered by the pandemic can still benefit from these time-tested communications principles.

Assess vulnerabilities proactively.

One vital spoke in the crisis communications wheel is often overlooked or shortchanged: Organizations need to diligently assess their vulnerabilities and proactively develop plans to address them. Some crises can never be anticipated, but to ensure business continuity, companies need to develop generalized plans for potential risks and identify lines of communication.

Being proactive also means understanding risks that could occur in the midst of a crisis and have short- and long-term implications for employees, customers and other stakeholders. For example, organizations could be vulnerable to mental health, cybersecurity or workforce issues when forced to transition to remote work arrangements, as has been the case during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Be authentic.

Authentic, forthright messages to employees and the public about risks — and how the organization is mitigating those risks — have long-lasting positive effects. If plans are not yet finalized or events are still unfolding where details may not yet be available, then organizations should feel comfortable saying so. It’s acceptable and expected that companies will acknowledge ongoing, fluid circumstances.

When disaster strikes a company, or an organizational issue disrupts its ability to function, well-mapped communication strategies take into account the nuances of internal and external audiences. Often, communication professionals first think about how a message will play out in the press, on social media or in a soundbite. But they might forget the audience of employees who also have to work within an organization facing a crisis.   

People appreciate authentic, connected communication — and in times of uncertainty and crisis, they look for it. Listening, reading non-verbal cues and participating in reflective dialogue de-escalate conflict and lead to better communication.

Be transparent and timely.

Authenticity also requires that organizations stand ready to act quickly, decisively and calmly when sharing information during a crisis. Providing transparent, timely information helps companies establish trust with interested parties so they can make decisions in their own best interests. 

Sharing up-to-the-minute information is important in times of uncertainty and volatility. It’s equally important to communicate the steps a company is taking to minimize the spread of misinformation.  

Remain humble.

When the dust settles and an organization begins to emerge from a crisis, it is essential to be honest and humble about what went well and where there are opportunities to improve on the plan for future crisis. 

To appreciate the strengths, weaknesses and contributions of others on the team, leaders must be willing to self-reflect and be open to advice and feedback. Humility is a crucial leadership strength that can engage stakeholders and help teams be more integrated and invested in the organization. 

Companies that can make clear-headed assessments without bias begin to cultivate a culture of collaboration and effectiveness before, during and after crises. 

It will take years to fully understand the ramifications of the coronavirus on our clients, organizations and bottom lines. But one thing is certain: Companies that strike the proper balance in the midst of the crisis are more likely to maintain the long-term confidence of their stakeholders.

photo credit: daniel grizelj

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