When there was an event in the military, I could manage to run on adrenaline for about 72 hours before crashing. I likely wasn’t thinking as clearly after the first 24 hours, but as a team, we pushed through to the end together. Some crises are sprints, and disasters can often be termed as a marathon, but the COVID-19 heath crisis is more of a cross-country non-stop run that is impacting every province and organization, company and industry along the route.
How are you sustaining the performance of your team for the long haul?
The COVID-19 crisis is dramatically different than other crises for a few reasons. First off, we don’t have an isolated audience or region impacted. Everyone is impacted. This makes decision-making and communicating those decisions challenging. Communicators are using every tool in their toolbox, reaching out to a myriad of audiences. Secondly, most crises or disasters require you to utilize as many resources as possible and work quickly to get the emergency under control. COVID-19 is a slow-moving crisis that requires us to make strategic decisions, not necessarily tactical ones.
One of my observations in reading the news and social media posts for COVID-19 is how everyone appears to be communicating everything to their audiences – and branding it as their own. We seem to have forgotten how to “stay in our lane” and leverage the excellent resources available from those who are the Subject Matter Experts in those lanes. This should be your priority. There are so many amazing websites and social media platforms from credible and trusted sources out there – use them with your audiences so you’re not re-inventing the wheel.
Some other considerations to help you sustain your operational tempo for the long haul might include:
1. Prioritize your audiences and consider how they are getting their information.
It is important that you are coordinating communications within your organization to optimize your teams and the messages you are sending out. Develop one bulletin daily and put ALL information needed for the same audience into that document. A note from leadership, HR and employment information, and so on. Put your information in one place – like your website – and link everything you post, tweet, distribute back to that hub. Focus your communications on your key audiences and stay in your lane.
2. Take care of your team – and yourself.
Get a schedule implemented that ensures people are taking breaks, having meals and going home to rest. You also need to lead by example - if the boss doesn’t take a lunch break or go home to rest, the team won’t either. Eating, resting and sleeping properly will ensure you’re all bringing your A-Game everyday. If you start to lose critical members of your team, you will be a rudderless ship and right now we need your ship to navigate us through this uncharted territory.
3. Bring in reinforcements for your team.
Look inside your organization for individuals who could be cross-posted for the duration of the exercise. Is Mary from Parks and Rec excellent with graphics? Invite Mary to work as part of your emergency communications team. Think about outside consultants and contractors you know or have used in the past. Ask them about backfilling for you as needed. Think about your retirees as well. They are an untapped resource who could offer the much-needed bench strength you need to get through to the end of this crisis. Plus, they already know your processes and the people in the organization.
4. Use your Boards and Advisory Panels as Advocates.
Do you have a Board of Directors or a Community Advisory Group or Panel? Consider the advocates who can work to support your efforts or reach out to specific audiences. Use them to share important messaging. Ask them to focus test your messaging, provide input and be your eyes and ears in the community for your organization. They can also keep you apprised of opportunities where your organization may be able to collaborate or support a community initiative, thus raising the profile of your brand or company during the crisis.
5. Use this crisis to build resilience in your teams.
Consider having a PIO “shadow” in your EOC/ECC. Every key position responding to this crisis could manage this on a rotating basis (remembering the EOC can get crowded)! Use this event as an opportunity to train the next wave of PIOs, emergency managers, crisis communicators or leaders. Give them the opportunity to see the situation unfold in “real time.” Let them observe the protocols decision-making and help them learn how to perform these roles for they day you’re not there to do it yourself. Let's learn from COVID-19 to build resilience into our organizations today so we’re better prepared to respond tomorrow.
The COVID-19 crisis is likely nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Organizations need a strategic mindset to set the course for the next six, twelve and possibly eighteen months. Working from home with your team being de-centralized may be your new normal for awhile yet. Take a deep breath, and remember you’re not alone. We’re all in this one together.
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