I seem to hear two expressions every day. The first is “Matthew, you’re on Mute.” And the second is “How are you doing?” I suspect I am not alone.
The first one is easy to answer – a sheepish grin and a mouse click. How are we supposed to answer that second question? Every day seems to have a week’s worth of news, crises and emotions thrust into it. COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, recession, election, back to school, natural disasters…
With so much happening at once, you can be forgiven a sense of constant disorientation. We don’t live in the “old normal,” and we’re clearly not in the “new normal.” We live in what I’ve come to call the “Now Normal” – a state of constant change and unpredictability wherein leaders have no prior experience or playbook to draw from to ensure success.
In March, Allison+Partners’ consulting arm, Allison Advisory, developed a framework of strategic approaches and perspectives to guide leaders through the crisis. Our aim was to help our clients craft strategies that wove together communications, marketing and business continuity that would allow their companies to come through this global crisis healthy and more resilient. We based that framework on how experience and logic suggested the disruptive crisis would progress in phases:
- Shock. The moment the disruption first happens.
- Orientation. When initial responses are considered, countered and ultimately crafted.
- Command. The point where you can start taking charge of the situation, being agile to adjust as necessary, given the unpredictability surround us.
- Recovery. The period when much of the emergency has passed or been contained, but normal operations have not yet returned.
- Bump. A sudden business surge often resulting from a prolonged period of pent-up demand.
- Equilibrium. “The new normal.” The sustainable tempo of business post-crisis where organizations must ensure future success and competitive advantage.
With some variation in geography or industry, most of us remain in the Command phase. The timing and nature of recovery remain unclear, and planning beyond month-to-month is little better than guesswork.
With recovery constantly receding before us, clients around the world seek our counsel on surviving, and even thriving, in the Now Normal. And while it seems axiomatic, our first advice is to lead, to be bold, directed and clear in the face of an instinct to drop, hold, wait and watch. Amid the crisis, stakeholders need information and inspiration, and this puts unprecedented pressure on organizations to be more flexible, agile, innovative and empathetic, all while sustaining a rapid tempo of clear communications:
Flexibility – Working from home, flex work schedules, delivery of products or services – programmatic approaches to change should be a thing of the past with priorities focused on pain points inhibiting transformation and future growth opportunities.
Agility – “Agile” is about more than software development. Enterprise agility and working in sprints, frees an organization to focus resources on critical pain points and opportunities, even in the face of constant change.
Innovation – Whether in process or product, managing through the crisis demands thoughtful but constant experimentation with new approaches, digital transformation, analytics and AI, and alliances and partnerships that might have been unthinkable before.
Empathy – Stakeholders are going through emotional gyrations they have never experienced. Leaders need to institute changes to address them. Diversity is no longer just an HR issue. Purpose needs to suffuse the organization, not exist as a marketing ploy. Reskilling and upskilling strategies will deliver to the bottom line. Setting a foundation in empathy is necessary as you manage through this crisis.
Communications – Leaders must be highly visible during this crisis. Transparency, accessibility and an obsession about constant communications are essential. Remember, stakeholders will remember how you acted (communicated) during this disruption. Putting your chief of communications in the C-suite will help ensure you get it right.
When this crisis does end, that end will offer opportunity for those most ready to capture it. After all, the renaissance was born from a pandemic. The key for all of us: success after the crisis will go to those who led most strongly through it. Lead boldly now, and your organization, and more importantly, society, will reap the benefits.
Allison+Partners is closely monitoring developments worldwide. In our weekly newsletter, we share expert perspectives on the pandemic's impact on marketing and communications, best practices in how to respond and useful tools and information to help guide you. Sign up to receive our weekly updates or visit our COVID-19 support page to learn how we can help you during this time.
MATTHEW DELLA CROCE
GLOBAL PRESIDENT, EUROPE + CORPORATE
An award-winning PR executive with more than 25 years of experience, Matthew leads the firm’s Corporate practice and oversees the growth and development of our European offices. He has extensive global experience helping businesses and organizations across industries grow and evolve.
Matthew's expertise includes reputation management, corporate brand positioning, thought leadership and executive visibility, change management, B2B marketing, social impact, C-suite counsel, crisis and issues management, integrated communications, influencer engagement, business and financial media and transaction communications.
He is a regular speaker at the Public Relations Society of America's annual conference, in IR Magazine workshops, and has served as a guest lecturer at New York University, Manhattanville College, Salem State University and in Columbia University's Strategic Communications graduate program. Matthew graduated with honors from Manhattanville College, where he was an All-American Scholar Athlete, and attended St. Catherine’s University, Oxford. He lives in Boston and spends as much time as he can in Vermont with his wife and daughters.