Aaaarggh! Not Another Blog on Effective Executive Communications in a Crisis.
(image: Aarón Blanco Tejedor, Unsplash)
Fear and uncertainty is all around at the moment.
Because "unknowns" generally make us anxious.
And lots of high-fear messages -- official and unofficial -- are probably flying around the (virtual) watercooler as panic mode sets in: "We need to lay off 25% of the team, maybe more if the the next quarter doesn't improve," or "Topline revenues are down 90%, so we're in danger of not surviving here."
But fear alone -- as you can imagine -- is not a motivator. In fact, it causes the opposite undesirable responses of inertia and even denial.
Look at how Kodak reacted to the advent of digital vs their film-based model. And Blockbuster's reaction to the advent of Netflix's subscription versus their video hire-based model.
Head in the sand (or, worse, head up their own orifice) denial.
"Netflix? Those guys aren't even on our radar," said the Blockbuster CEO in 2012, before filing for bankruptcy in 2014.
So, as a leader, how do you best hold your team together, and align them behind your ongoing mission so that fear itself -- leading to rumour, and irrational behaviour --doesn't become an even bigger problem than the cause of the fear?
The best suggestion here comes from my guru in matters of the science of persuasion, Robert Cialdini, PhD:
Accompany ‘high-fear’ messages with
clear, specific and effective action steps
that will reduce the danger.
So, better leaders might say something like this: "Netflix is on our radar because they're attacking strongly. So what we're going to do immediately is assign John, the VP of marketing, to investigate subscription models and digital technologies, and by July 1 we will have a really clear picture of what that exciting new future looks like for all of us."
"Yes, topline revenues are down 90%. But we have 3 months working capital in cash at the bank, and Susan is heading up the team to move our product portfolio into a B2C online offering by June 30. If anyone has the ideas and energy to work with Susan on that, she'd surely welcome your contribution."
The most important thing here is that when your team hears it clearly and confidently from you, it takes away their need to create alternative back-channel chatter of fictitious fear-driven scenarios.
Does the message you're about to deliver have clear, specific, effective action steps? Go back and rework it until it does.
Otherwise all you'll do is frighten them into inaction.