This puts chief executives in the position of having to make some of the biggest decisions of their careers, which need communicating with clarity and care.
Here are my 10 key tips for CEOs when it comes strategic communications, post-lockdown.
1. Overcommunicate (but don’t overpromise)
If you leave a vacuum, people fill it with their worst fears. So even when you can’t give people all the information, at least tell them what you can. But, crucially, do not make promises you cannot keep – when they are found out, they devalue all your future comms.
2. Prepare people
Sow the seeds of things now so that they aren’t perceived as a shock or unplanned later on. For example, can you pepper statements with references to ongoing change programmes?
3. Use staff feedback channels as early warning systems
Someone should be processing and presenting you with the trends they’re identifying. They might spot things that you can do something about right now to improve morale and stop drift.
4. You win the war with allies
Especially when talking to government and regulators, ensure co-ordination with your peers. This avoids cutting across each other and gives you access to fresh thinking. Also, many sectors will experience consolidation post-pandemic, so start to have tentative conversations now.
5. Remember Beveridge, not just Churchill
It is not simply about being a 'wartime leader', but planning for a new settlement. And it’s important that options are not just discussed but agreed and implemented. Assume that any indecision will leak.
6. Hold your senior team accountable
Ensure they all have visible responsibility for something related to getting the business through this period. It cannot all be on your shoulders.
7. Don’t just map stakeholders, shadow them
This is especially important for preparing people for longer-term changes. You should ensure that each of your senior team has responsibility for shadowing and updating your most important stakeholders.
8. 'Remind me of the point of you again?'
The choice is stark – either you’re helping with the response to the pandemic, or you’re indispensable for other reasons. Similar to the banks post-2008, you have to communicate why and how you are 'socially useful'.
9. Have comms people inside the room when making big decisions
Why? First, you can focus on the decision and let comms worry about how it’s perceived. Second, comms can get a head start in devising appropriate messaging and spot elephant traps.
10. Lead by example
There will be a reckoning in due course – plenty of businesses will be asked what more they could have done to ensure their survival, including decisions you took on your own pay and benefits. Think about what you will be able to say when that moment comes.
Chris Calland is a director at Sapience Communications