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Communicating In Uncertain Times

At the start of the pandemic, I was reminded of a great lesson in communication and I was reminded of this lesson by listening to staff. In the early days of COVID-19, there were a lot of unknowns. Being in the Sports and Live Entertainment Industry, there was a myriad of questions surrounding the industry. We were currently in a pause and at the time, thought the pause would last until mid summer. Little did we know at the time.

Naturally during this time, staff were curious and apprehensive about what the next several months held for their positions. The initial response was to plan behind the scenes, but to not announce information until we knew what direction we were headed. At the time, we had no idea what the next several months held and the natural thought was to not panic employees when the future was unknown.

While I moved forward with quietly planning contingency routes, I soon recognized that it was not doing anything to mitigate any concerns and apprehensiveness the staff had. Early into COVID-19, I had started a daily Director's Meeting, followed by a Manager's Meeting to brief staff on confirmed information related to COVID-19. It was during one of the Director's Meeting that I briefed the group on three scenarios that could happen. At this point, a Director spoke up and recommended that I share the three potential scenarios with the entire staff. This Director felt that even if bad, the staff would appreciate the transparency and allow for them to make plans, even if the worst case scenario did not come true. On this particular morning, I thought about the recommendation and agreed. I went into the Manager Meeting and briefed them with the three scenarios that could happen. While the worst case scenario was presented, as one of the three scenarios, there was palpable relief in the room from everyone because they now knew what all potential routes could occur. They now had a map with three destinations and could make contingency plans for all three.

After the meeting, I had over 90% of the managers come up and thank me for the transparency and explain that the feeling of unknown was causing them more anxiety than knowing what three routes could occur. I have thought about this particular meeting quite frequently, as it has had a large impact on how I view communication in a time when there is a lot unknown.

Lessons in Communication during uncertain times:

  • Know your staff and don't underestimate what they can process. You hired them - they are rock stars!
  • Be transparent - even when the news is less than desirable, upfront communication will be appreciated.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate - stay in touch, even if there is no new information. Be honest. A simple check in or asking what they are watching on Netflix is a great morale booster and better than radio silence.
  • Listen to staff - you may not always be able to see the whole picture when you are in thick of it!
  • Allow for professional discussion - Don't let a discussion be controlled with negativity, but allow for staff to voice questions, concerns, and their thoughts.

At the end of the day, COVID-19 has brought unprecedented times. Employees do not expect you to be a fortune teller, but they do greatly appreciate when you keep them updated with transparency and honesty....even if it's a I don't know, there is no new update or these are the potential scenarios that could occur.