In the midst of a crisis, making swift and sound decisions is the principal concern of executive teams — and as challenging as that is, it is only half the battle. Even the best strategy falls apart when it’s not communicated effectively, and crisis management demands a heightened level of communication that the CEO must own.

Market-leading CEOs work closely with their leadership teams to maintain strong and transparent communication with not only their customers but also their employees. Every employee is an ambassador of the brand, and without clear guidance and communication internally, external messages will also be inconsistent.


Lead With Empathy


During a time of a crisis, minds shift to understanding how their Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is being affected and addressed. This shift in mindset leaves employees fearful, concerned, and questioning. Is my job at risk? What happens if I get sick – who will take care of me? Will I have a job to come back to? What happens if my family gets sick and I have to take time away to care for them? In times like these, leaders need to lead and communicate with empathy and provide a positive role and impact in employees’ lives. Your talent is what got your organization to this stage, after all.


Last week, CEO of Marriott International, Arne Sorenson, shared a video message across his team members. He immediately addressed the global conditions that are out of his and the company’s control and how the conditions are affecting business to a 90% decline. He led with empathy, showed that he put his people first, and then addressed what actions leadership is taking to address this as best as they can.


Overcommunicate and Be Quick to Respond


With constant updates on COVID-19 and how it’s affecting our communities, a centralized response committee formed by leadership should be responsible for tracking and understanding news and updates. These updates should be communicated frequently (even daily) to the workforce. The committee should also be in charge of responding to employees’ questions and concerns they may have.


Constant communication to employees should include office closures, technology updates, and management changes. If there is a long hiatus of no communication, suspicion, and anxiety will rise in the workforce. Even while decisions are still being made by leadership, thoughts, and ideas should still be shared to maintain transparency.


David Grabert, current global head of marketing and communications for Group M, was able to provide resources and a helping hand to employees during his time at Cox Communications when Hurricane Katrina hit. He set up a hotline for employees to share with the company how they were doing and what they needed. The company also responded with setting up a disaster relief fund to rebuild their lives and homes as well as donating to advertising for New Orleans tourism. This allowed employees and customers to increase their loyalty to the company after seeing how well Cox took care of their employees and communities.


Take Measures for a Safe Working Environment – Even While Remote


Designate a cross-functional response team to track news and updates on COVID-19. The response team should also be prepared with a plan and communication if a confirmed case is established. Work with your legal team to understand privacy rights and legal safety issues. Your team should share updates on when the anonymous employee contracted it, what office the employee is based out of, and what employees they could have interacted with.


This is also a great opportunity to promote a safe workplace by communicating telehealth benefits to your employees. With encouraged social distancing and more states considering “stay at home” orders, employees should understand what resources they have access to and whether the company provides them or not.


When your organization has pending changes and is facing big challenges from COVID-19, address them internally first. If updates are not shared internally before externally, the trust will be damaged. This will also allow your talent to take the initiative to provide support in the changes that will be happening.


Help Your Workforce Navigate How to Work in New and Agile Environments


Though the workplace has shifted to employees’ homes and on digital channels, it is important to maintain continuity to minimize disruption to the business and customers. In an effort to maintain continuity, communicate leadership’s commitments, and set the tone for how to keep your workforce appropriately moving forward. The little things also matter – share helpful best practices on staying healthy, working from home, use of technology, and collaborating digitally.


Alongside operational continuity, it is essential for cultural continuity as well. If your organization is used to working at the office rather than virtually, find ways to keep the culture alive. Some of our clients are getting creative with collaboration tools by hosting virtual happy hours, game nights, wellness contests, and much more.


During a time of crisis, employees will look to leadership to provide solutions, answers, and guidance. Employees will feel panic when there is more uncertainty than needed. Successful CEOs work with their leadership teams to communicate effectively with a frequent cadence, transparency, and empathy.


Join our LinkedIn group here to see how other GTM leaders are responding to COVID-19.


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Jenny Sung

Helping marketing and sales leaders accelerate top and bottom-line growth by delivering data-driven insights.

Jenny has a diverse background in B2B and B2C marketing, business development, and account management. She has worked at advertising, branding, and professional services firms and specializes in marketing operations, brand, and lead generation. Prior to joining SBI, Jenny worked closely with sales and revenue teams at G100 Network, growing its pipeline by 23% and decreased the sale cycle time by 10%.


Jenny brings her industry knowledge, creativity, and passion to deliver value to sales and marketing leaders. She takes pride in helping clients align their marketing and sales teams to help make their number.



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