Governance in Business – Are You Speaking the Same Language?
Recently, we have been working with clients dealing with the COVID dilemma; what stands out for them is that clarity of message to stakeholders with a clear and shared understanding of terminology is key. Ambiguous language and poorly communicated solutions has led to ‘do-overs’, and lost opportunities to gain a competitive advantage and reinforce ethical brand values. Read on for tips on how to communicate clearly in unclear times.
Understand the Impact at Every Touch Point
This is definitely NOT the time for the ‘one size fits all’ approach, and understanding the impact on the different areas of your business is the starting point:
1. Which stakeholder?
2. What customer segment?
3. What are the issues?
4. What solutions are available?
5. What’s the best way to communicate?
This is a team effort, with input required from every department of the company; your front- line people will be current with customer concerns and processes, your HR department will be in touch with employee worries and new legislation, your operations teams will have their finger on the pulse for health and safety red flags etc. The wider the inputs, the deeper the results and shared success.
Display Action-Led Leadership
It's the companies displaying action-led leadership, with agile governance response, that are standing out by acting positively and creatively, and communicating what they are doing.
Like many other companies, the pandemic has hit Pret a Manger in the UK hard. Their response; they kept open a select number of outlets close to hospitals, so NHS staff could access fresh and healthy food at 50% discount. In recent weeks, the company has launched a retail coffee offering with Amazon, plus added delivery options in partnership with Uber Eats, Deliveroo, and Just Eat. When recently announcing the closure of 30 of its UK outlets, its CEO openly stated, “Our goal now is to bring Pret to more people, through different channels and in new ways.”
Be Clear and Transparent from Day One
Putting together stakeholder messages during times of crisis requires absolute clarity for all involved from the outset:
· Be clear about what you know, what you’re doing, and what you expect.
· Be clear about what you don’t know, and when you’ll have those answers.
With so much misinformation, companies and leaders need to be reliable and credible in sharing information and answering questions, with empathy at the forefront. According to a recent 2020 poll, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tops the list of most eloquent world leaders, thanks to her transparent and compassionate leadership style; her communication as part of the COVID-19 response has been a masterclass in crisis leadership.
Be the source of truth for your investors, customers, and employees.
Keep It Simple
The huge benefit of plain language is that it requires a relatively low reading effort to understand, enabling people to absorb and use the information quickly.
For example, the World Health Organization emphasizes the importance of clarity in health communications. In a crisis, we are all more likely to be anxious; clear, simple messages both help to keep people calm, but also removes the risk of any confusion or misinterpretation.
Clearly addressing FAQs upfront means less time is spent re-communicating, and more time on urgent and strategic business needs.
Be Relevant for Different Stakeholders
Tailor the message to the concerns of your stakeholders. Investors or owners may be worried about business resilience and survival, employees may be more concerned about job security and income, and customers will want to know about supply, delivery, and safety protocols.
Knowing your audience keeps your message on point, being authentic and present develops the trust needed for the long haul.
Publish Once, Reach Everyone
Having a way to quickly and effectively reach all of your stakeholders is invaluable. Being consistent and compassionate across all of your channels means the focus can quickly move on to business issues.
Mckinsey’s guide, Communicating with Teams, Stakeholders, and Communities During COVID-19, describes five leadership behaviours during times of crisis: organize via a network of teams; display deliberate calm and bounded optimism; make decisions amid uncertainty; and demonstrate empathy.
This means taking a good, hard look at your infrastructure and procedures. Now more than ever, lean and robust structures will protect the future of your company.
A Good Time to Think About Your Message
What message are you sending, and are you speaking the same language as your stakeholders?
At THG Advisory, we help our clients communicate clearly in unclear times.