Tools & Technologies

How to Manage Your Business in a Recession: "#3 Communicate like Crazy, Balancing Realism and Optimism"

The January 19, 2009 edition of Fortune magazine features an article entitled “How to Manage Your Business in a Recession”, authored by Geoff Colvin (pp.66-71). Inside, Geoff lays out 10 ways to weather the current economic storm. He starts:

“Exciting as it is to be living through historic economic drama, you can’t just stand by and watch. You have to act–yet you have no script. So much of today’s turmoil is unprecedented that we can’t find much guidance by looking to the past. For managers across the global economy, as well as for Team Obama on its way to Washington, today’s great question is, What do we do now?”

Let’s take Geoff’s 10 principles, and analyze the implications for your collaboration strategy (see the links to all 10 principles). Let’s turn our attention to principle #3 … “Communicate like crazy, balancing realism and optimism.”

3. Communicate like Crazy, Balancing Realism and Optimism
When times are tough, or we notice that things aren’t going like we’ve previously said, our natural reaction is to go quiet and hope that the storm will pass by. The consequence for others though, is that they grow nervous at the silence and start imagining the worst (see my previous comments about dealing with silence in virtual teams). As Geoff comments:

Employees are worried that they’ll be fired, suppliers that they won’t be paid, customers that quality will decline or prices rise, investors that the stock will tank, communities that operations will close down. Your silence just makes them worry more.

The antidote? Honest and forthright communication about what’s going on, but with hope being the main message. As with all use of collaboration tools, there are lots of alternative ways of communicating, but what’s vitally important is (a) that you communicate, and (b) that you don’t play games with your communication. People want the truth.

Email blasts from the CEO or manager have become the standard operating procedure for all types of communication, but there are better ways — ways that make that communication available for others later on, ways that make the feedback points transparent and open, ways that demonstrate the senior leadership is listening and in tune with what employees are thinking and feeling.

One way is the use of a “CEO blog”, where either to internal-only or for-all-the-world, the CEO or another top executive posts regularly about what’s happening. Maybe that’s once a week if things aren’t too turbulent. Or maybe it’s every day if and when business operating conditions are highly chaotic. Just as with email, you need the feedback aspect, and allowing others to post comments and make observations, or to ask for clarification on something, is critical and important. For senior managers, this is a good time to have an assistant highlight key points of feedback that should be responded to directly in the comment stream, or through a follow-on blog post. Such action, enacted regularly, makes people feel heard and respected.

What about Twittering updates from the CEO? I think that’s too much of a stretch in all but a few cases — those being for CEOs that were already Twittering before, and where all employees are tuned in to Twitter. Starting to Twitter moment-by-moment updates at this point in time is a pretty huge leap. Start with something simpler — either the email blast or the CEO blog.

Town-hall meetings are a second way of communicating regularly, but where that involves flying everyone in to a central location that isn’t going to work — at least not regularly. So do them virtually. Set up a web conference every fortnight or every month, and have a standing invitation to everyone in the firm to attend and engage. Record the sessions and post them for people who couldn’t attend in real time. Hey … make them available as podcast downloads so your people can listen to them while traveling. Go see LiquidTalk for help on this front.

Whatever way you use to communicate, it’s the expression and cultivation of hope in others during dark and difficult times that everyone wants to hear. Employees face mortgage and car payments, and more … they want to hear hope in your voice and your words, and see it in your demeanor. Customers want to hear that same hope … they are facing difficult times too, and as much as they are fighting to stay valid in these changing times, they want to keep working with others who have stability and ongoing viability.

They want to hear the stories and vignettes that cultivate hope:
– “I was talking to a customer today, and they said … “
– “We are well-positioned to face this storm, because … “
– “We lost a bid yesterday, but the customer said we needed to improve in three ways … “

You get the picture — realism, truth and hope. Make sure you give it to them.

Categories: Tools & Technologies