The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video version of the episode.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a constant, slow-moving crisis. The first episode of the St. Pete Chamber’s Coronavirus Impact Insights dropped Friday, and even as it published, the situation changed dramatically and continued to change over the course of the weekend.
In this episode, Chamber CEO Chris Steinocher addresses just that problem, helping business owners lead through the crisis and navigate internal and external crisis communications. Steinocher draws on the expertise of guests Darren Richards, COO of Tucker/Hall, and Jen Hall, founder of Mindset Coaching.
“It’s really important that we as a community stick together,” Steinocher says, “keep sharing the information that we do have and keep making sure that those who are open for business are getting the help they need, that those who have had to close their doors are getting the help they need, and that our community understands how to navigate all of that.”
Richards speaks to Tucker/Hall’s specialty in crisis communications, and how businesses can make decisions and communicate those decisions to their employees, customers and partners effectively. Ultimately, Richards says, the big focus during a crisis should be the long term objective, including the long term reputation of the company and financial position to remain in business. He believes all decision making should be made through that filter.
Richards makes two major recommendations in the crisis communications process:
First, make sure that your organization sets a process to handle the crisis and make decisions. Many larger organizations stand up the Incident Command System, a standardized hierarchy that allows for a cooperative response by multiple agencies, both within and outside of government. But many organizations and small businesses don’t have enough employees or structure to need such a process, so instead, Richards said, they must invent a process on the fly. He recommends getting key players like the CEO, CFO, COO and HR professionals in the room together, making decisions from all perspectives of the organization.
Second, decide what your organization’s communications will be and how they will be delivered. Considerations should include timing, sequence and intensity. According to Richards, you should think of communication with groups in terms of concentric circles – employees should be first, then customers, then partners, vendors or shareholders. He recommends that organizations put a plan together to get into a rhythm or pattern of communication so employees and customers know what to expect.
Avoid mistakes as best you can, Richards advises, “Tell the truth, tell the whole truth, and tell it quickly,” he said. “What is true today may not be true tomorrow.” Honesty and transparency are vital in these situations, Richards said, and if you make a mistake, own up to it.
Hall, a leading executive coach in Tampa Bay, says that in times like these, leaders often neglect self-care – even more than usual.
Her advice? In addition to all of the normal things leaders do to help the business survive and help employees, leaders need to establish the basics:
- Sleep 7-9 hours each night, or as much as possible. This is extremely important for executive function.
- Connect with peers in meaningful ways, get support even if it’s not in person.
- Go out into nature for at least 5-10 minutes each day. Look at the sky or get under some trees.
- Take a break from the media, particularly social media.
- Listen to music or read a book.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol.
Hall, like Richards, believes the best strategy in a crisis is open, honest and authentic communication that happens often. If your tendency is to bury your head in the sand when a crisis like this occurs, Hall suggests an accountability partner, whether that is a spouse or a peer in a similar industry.
St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce: https://www.stpete.com/resource-guide-for-coronavirus-covid-19/
St. Pete Greenhouse: https://stpetegreenhouse.com/prepare/