How to deliver great internal communications in challenging times

11 minute read | David Brown | Article | Leadership Managing a team Workforce management

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The pandemic has shown us the importance of clear and effective communications. Hays US CEO, David Brown, takes you through the steps to building a great comms strategy for the uncertain future.


Internal comms during crisis: Key insights

During the pandemic, the importance of good internal communications became much more important. It is now clear that businesses need to adapt their comms strategies for the new hybrid model and a turbulent future.

By adopting a transparent and open comms approach, leaders can develop trust, build inclusion and empower employees. 

There are five key aspects to building this new transparent communications approach:

  • Increase frequency of comms during moments of challenge
  • Refine more clear and consistent messaging
  • Adopt a personal, approachable, open-door policy.
  • Share both good news and bad in pursuit of openness and unity
  • Make transparency reciprocal – take and listen to feedback from employees.

Read on for a more detailed description of how to implement this open comms strategy. 

Alternatively, contact your local consultant for more info on how we can help you and your business.


Crisis and transparent communication: Background

The world of work has changed in the aftermath of the recent crisis. What employees value and expect is changing and, as business leaders, we need to adapt our methods of managing our people when times are challenging. In particular, the way we communicate with employees is more important than ever. Getting it right will be crucial to the success of organisations going forward into a tumultuous future.

The pandemic drove home the importance of open and transparent communication. With so much unknown and at stake, we were seeking concrete answers, even if the news was not always good. This holds true in our professional lives too – when it comes down to it, everyone values honesty. As leaders, we sometimes forget that. We fixate on the responsibility of instilling confidence and optimism in our people, but in reality, that can’t always be the case. Rather than avoiding uncomfortable questions or offering vague answers, we owe it to our employees to tell them how it is. 

Adopting an open and transparent communication strategy has numerous benefits. In particular it helps:

  • Develop trusting, supportive relationships
  • Build a sense of inclusion and togetherness
  • Empower employees and ensure your workforce is happy and productive

With that in mind, here are some of the lessons we learned during the pandemic, about the importance of communicating with staff during turbulent times.


1. Increase the frequency of communications

During times of difficulty and uncertainty, I recommend communicating as frequently as possible. At the outset of the pandemic we increased our communication to the wider business from a monthly basis to weekly. Use this opportunity to alert everyone to the latest developments about the business and any changes to working methods. Reassure them that you are monitoring the emerging situation carefully, and that their health and safety always comesfirst. 

By communicating on a regular basis, you are giving yourself more opportunities to keep people in the loop. It will help foster a culture of transparency, providing your employees with a better idea of the bigger picture and what role they have to play.

In my own experience, the benefits have been ongoing. Not only is the management team being more transparent with staff, but the effect has trickled down. My teams are being much more open with one another and with me. There is a lot more chatting happening online, a lot more emailing back and forth, and a lot of informal telephone and video conferencing. 


2. Consistent, concise and clear messaging

In fast-moving situations, it can understandably be difficult to stay on top of current information. Confusing communications do not help the situation. When your teams are in different locations, the confusion can become much worse. As a leader, you must ensure that everyone is receiving the same information. For example, don’t provide an update to the team in the office and forget to update those working remotely. Doing so will only create a divide between your workforce and has the potential to generate distrust in the management team.

Also, be sure to provide reasons for decisions you make. Clear reasoning will help your employees to understand the context and ensure that they don’t have to connect the dots themselves. It is also important to adopt an authentic comms voice. If you don’t have all the answers, be open and admit that – it will help to build trust over time. 

Due to the joined-up approach from the management team, our messaging is now clearer, more concise and unified than it ever has been. This has been one of the biggest lessons I have learned from the pandemic.


3. Share news, both good and bad

Sharing positive news from across the business lifts morale and promotes a sense of togetherness, at a time when it is sorely needed. Use good news as an opportunity to thank people and give due recognition. Crucially, make sure there is equal recognition for those in the office and those working remotely. Draw on examples of office-based and remote teams working together to deliver results. Let your staff know that despite the challenges everyone is facing from their own location, there is still a way of working together.

It is also important that you don’t focus solely on good news. There will undoubtedly be bad news during any difficult period and deciding not to acknowledge problems publicly can be damaging. News will spread as gossip and it is much preferable to have clear and accurate information. If the news has the potential to be in the press, it’s also important your employees hear it from you first, otherwise, it has the potential to undermine trust. Be transparent about good news and bad, and make sure you are communicating it to the business with the appropriate level of detail.


4. Be personable and available 

Take the time to speak with your people on a human level. Try different methods too: join team calls, ask people how they are, and don’t be afraid to share aspects of your own life and your feelings. Our CEO, Alistair Cox, recently wrote about the importance of human leadership, you can read it here.

Personally, I join a couple of team meetings every day, often with just a handful of people. We talk about how everybody is doing, on a personal level as well as at work. I also make myself available to answer any questions they have. These calls provide me with some real insights into what employees are thinking. I’m also able to gauge the mood and find out what we should be doing to ensure people remain happy and productive.

It’s important to remember that sometimes people just want to talk things out. Speaking to them directly, in an authentic way, will encourage them to air problems and find solutions. I operate an open-door policy, even in the virtual sense, to make myself available to anyone who has questions and making sure to not turn anyone away. I not only encourage people to contact me if they want to talk, but to reach out to their line managers and their regional leaders too.


5. Listen and take feedback on board

Transparency should not be one-directional. If you are being open with your staff, encourage them to share honest feedback with you. Listening to people is an invaluable skill. It allows you to know what’s working and what isn’t – which is increasingly important as we step further into the hybrid model. This blog has some pointers on becoming a good listener.

It’s important that you not only listen to feedback, but action it if necessary. Show your workforce that it pays to be honest. Involve them in creating a better workplace. You can use productive feedback to fine-tune your managerial approach and shape a way of working that works for everyone.


Transparent comms and leadership: Further reading

I hope you have found this advice useful. Remember, a main thing to take away from this blog is the awareness that you can’t be expected to know all of the answers, all of the time. It’s OK to admit that – doing so is not showing weakness. In fact, being open about your own vulnerabilities in a time of crisis will help develop your employees' trust and respect for you.


About this author

David is the CEO of Hays, US. He is responsible for leading all Hays staffing operations in the US and is a 20-year veteran of the staffing industry. Prior to his current role, David worked in various roles in sales, sales management and executive management.

He lives in Atlanta with his wife and three children.

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