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Crises and remote work have something in common—the need for greater thoughtfulness, transparency, and communication. From planning your sharing strategy to disseminating your message, here is advice from experts for your service desk to utilize to adapt to crisis:
The Psychology Behind Effective Crisis Leadership
This fascinating article by Gianpiero Petriglieri contends that laying out your strategic vision is not the best response to fear and uncertainty. While having a clear vision is a critical leadership trait, it doesn't assuage the pressure and emotional distress your employees are feeling right now. Combined with our intrinsic motivation, vision can also lead to burnout, which is more harmful in the long run. Instead, Petriglieri recommends leaders practice something psychologists term as “holding”—when "another person, often an authority figure, contains and interprets what's happening in times of uncertainty."
By assuming responsibility for analyzing the changing landscape on behalf of your employees, rather than merely focusing on how bright the future is, leaders can alleviate a cognitive burden for their colleagues. In short, when leaders do the laborious critical thinking and communicate the near-term implications, it's one less thing for employees to worry about.
Petriglieri suggests that companies can implement policies that reassure employees of job security and fairness while promoting dialogue and employee participation in decision making. To eliminate stress at its source, it's vital to get ahead of rumors and speculation before focusing on other wellness and stress management measures. By holding, leaders empower their employees to be their very best, even at the worst of times. This practice sets the stage for how teams will emerge from crises on the other side.
Crisis Communication Tips Every Organization Should Master
Once leaders have a clear idea of how they want to approach the crisis, the next step is getting the message across. Lauren Landry offers seven communication tips for doing just that. First, it's critical that leaders work collaboratively with their peers and communicate with a one-company strategy. An emergency is not the right time to build new alliances; it's preferable to leverage the relationships you already have. More than ever, be gracious to those helping you execute your plan.
As you compose your communications, make a point to recognize the victims of the crisis. Consider and acknowledge the implications the crisis will continue to have on your employees. At times, it may be prudent to admit your humanity and your own shortcomings. Employees understand that disasters are unexpected, and missteps are almost inevitable, but ignoring failures altogether signals a lack of care or willingness to learn from mistakes. Similarly, leaders should take responsibility rather than blaming others. Regardless of fault, how we react to crises is within our control and guides the attitudes of our employees. Honesty and transparency, even about the unknown, do more good than withholding communication.
Honesty and transparency, even about the unknown, do more good than withholding communication.
One of my favorite tips is to visualize how crises and actions will impact your organization. While you may be in the midst of a crisis right now, visualizing how your communications and actions might play out in the next few weeks is still helpful in forming your approach today.
Finding the Right Words in a Crisis
People are being inundated with crisis-related information. It's easy to become overwhelmed by all the noise, making it particularly important to communicate in a way that is easy for your audience to digest. Carmine Gallo offers suggestions for getting your message across.
Gallo recommends replacing long words with short ones. It's tempting to use complicated words and sentences to portray ourselves as "professional" or authoritative. In the service and support industry, these habits are hard to break after many years of bad customer service writing advice. However, the hallmark of a professional communicator is to speak and write in a way that the audience can easily relate to and understand. Attempting to sound "professional" could be interpreted as distancing yourself from your employees or customers when they need you most. Drop the jargon, and talk to your people like humans.
Gallo also suggests that, when possible, you try to find analogies to help the recipient of your message make sense of what you're saying. This makes your communications even more readily understandable by customers and employees who are already struggling to grasp a complicated situation.
Likewise, finding ways to personalize your crisis communications also helps to make messages more understandable and promote action. Gallo notes, "cooperation is essential in a crisis, so effective leaders need to be strong storytellers." Stories also help to make messages more memorable, and it serves to humanize the speaker or author.
Finally, the author recommends observing the rule of three. People have a limited amount of working memory, and when you overload them with too many calls to action, they're likely to forget and neglect to take action on any of them. Breaking down messages and requests into three key points will be more memorable, thereby inspiring more of the desired effect.
Projecting Leadership Presence Virtually
We've all been forced to adapt to social distance and remote work, at least a little by now. What you shouldn't sacrifice during this time is your presence as a leader. Carol Kinsey Goman has some recommendations for staying present, even when you cannot physically be with your team.
It starts with everyday etiquettes, such as choosing the right communication medium for the message. Complicated ideas are best expressed in rich formats such as a virtual meeting or phone call, whereas routine information can be sent by email. With all emails, make sure the subject accurately describes the message, and take an extra moment to ensure the body of the message is concise.
It seems like new information is around every corner these days. While you may be tempted to rush to print breaking news, it's vital for leaders to pause and gather all of the facts before sharing. As discussed earlier, exercising holding for your employees does more good than putting the latest headlines on blast. Just as we tell frontline analysts to be wary of emotional hijacking, it's critical for leaders to take a step back when they feel their emotions overriding their strategy.
Finally, just because we're all working from home, possibly in pajama pants, doesn't mean we shouldn't put our best foot forward when it comes to virtual meetings. Take some time to dress up for work, even if you're not leaving the house, and ensure you look just as presentable on video as you would in the office. Don't forget to smile and make eye contact when communicating virtually. This LinkedIn Learning series, Executive Presence on Video Conference Calls, is a great guide to jumpstart your reflection.
Andrew will present several sessions on customer surveys, metrics, and the future of support at SupportWorld Live.
Andrew Gilliam is a passionate customer experience innovator and change agent, with a background in IT support and customer service. As one of HDI's in-house subject matter experts, he writes and speaks about service management, technical support, and contact center trends and best practices. Andrew was among ICMI's 2019 Movers & Shakers and Top 50 Thought Leaders for multiple years, and he maintains several HDI and CompTIA certifications, including CASP+. Follow @ndytg on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, and discover more at andytg.com.