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Six Tips to Keep in Mind for Your Coronavirus Crisis Plan

This article, authored by our  Senior Advisor Sharon McIntosh, continues a special series titled “Creating Resiliency During the COVID-19 Crisis.” 

This series will feature articles, podcasts and additional resources from our Consultants Collective member consultants, advisors and coaches, whose experience and expertise includes risk and change management, Asia, China, offshoring, leading distributed global teams, managing crises and internal communications, deploying and managing online collaboration tools that enable people to work together virtually, developing new models, as well as expertise in innovation and design-thinking, work-life integration — and more — all of which uniquely positions Consultants Collective to serve its clients during this time. We hope this series is a valuable resource to you and your organization as you tackle the challenges presented by this global public health crisis. If we can provide additional help and support through our executive consulting, advisory and coaching services, please contact us.

As talk of COVID-19, or coronavirus, dominates our headlines ― and our headspace ― you are likely trying to support staff and colleagues while also carrying your own personal worries and stressors. Well, we are all in this together.

To help you (and us!) navigate the fine line between information sharing and fear-mongering, we tapped crisis comms expert Andy Gilman for his advice on managing information in this unique moment.

In the podcast we shared yesterday, Andy joined the EE Voice podcast to discuss how comms teams and business leaders can approach their roles. We encourage you to listen for yourself, but no need to take notes. We’ve summed up Andy’s six key points for you here:

A potential pandemic is outside of your (and your CEO’s control.)

Crisis comms professionals are adept at working to manage and control situations. This situation lies outside our control, which makes our work more challenging. We need to adjust our crisis comms plan – and be flexible to react what’s next. We also need to be empathic to our employees that they’re anxious at this time.

Set up your War Room.

Crisis communications planning is iterative. Meet regularly, and often, with your team (probably daily, at this point) to update each other and discuss the next day, week, month.

Most or all of our leaders have not managed anything like this before.

This is a new crisis. We haven’t seen a pandemic since the avian flu in 2009. Even if you are working from a solid crisis communications plan, pandemic is likely NOT on your list. This means adding a medical officer or subject matter expert to your team now.

Don’t over- or under-communicate.

As Andy notes, keep the four F’s in mind: Be fast, factual, frequent and flexible. Be forthcoming about what you DO and DO NOT know, and share only confirmed information from trusted sources.

Think globally.

Companies should assign people to monitor happenings in different time zones.

Your CEO and other senior leaders should be talking to employees regularly.

Note that the role of the CEO or company leadership is to be calm, reassuring, and project confidence that We will get through this. This person is also the delegator — the one who tags in the right people for the right roles. 

Andy reminded us that trust is a fragile commodity. Your challenge is to be candid while also acknowledging that you are working with incomplete information.

Your message is: Trust that we will get you the information we have, when we have it.

“Employees do look internally for guidance on these issues, from benefits and time off to when and how they can work remotely,” Andy says. “If you’ve been doing communications right, your employees already trust you ― and this will be an opportunity for comms to shine.”

If we can provide additional help and support towards your coronavirus crisis plan through our executive consulting, advisory and coaching services, please contact us.

Sharon McIntosh

Sharon McIntosh is a senior advisor for Consultants Collective as well as the president of And Then Communications. With more than two decades of communications experience, she has a passion for creating and executing new ideas to drive employee engagement at Fortune 500 companies. Now she’s turning her attention to helping other organizations great and small do the same. Her clients have included United Technologies, Otis Elevator, Toyota, Intercontinental Hotel Group, AbbVie, TEGNA media and AppSpace, among others. Most recently she served as PepsiCo’s vice president of Global Internal Communications, overseeing the company’s efforts to connect with its more than 274,000 employees worldwide. She and her team launched a number of innovative employee initiatives, including the company’s first social media training (SMART U), a social tool to share internal news externally and PepsiCo’s award-winning employee ambassador program. Before joining PepsiCo in 2004, Sharon spent seven years at Sears. Among her greatest contributions there, she launched a marketing strategy for all life events, ran user experience for the company’s e-commerce site and introduced the company’s first intranet. Prior to Sears, she worked at Waste Management, publishing more than 14 annual reports for various business units, managing shareholder meetings, drafting senior executive speeches and handling media relations.

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