Business objectives are met because people-priority ensures success. Where people are valued, have a voice, enjoy trusting and adult relationships with all colleagues, people can be expected to do more without compulsion. We can expect them to stay in the business longer and develop and hone skills that might be overlooked in other organization.
Healthy communication is at the heart of all trusting relationships both internally, but with all stake-holders, including the supply-chain.
Until now, most executives have been fire-fighting to manage necessary changes for productive operations. In the New Normal, there are still episodes of fire-fighting, but we executives must resist the habit of firefighting unless absolutely necessary. Yes, we can learn from mistakes made in firefighting, but if we are strategic, we make fewer of them! The strategic approach to communications is important when planning smooth operations and contingency-planning for disruptive events.
Good communication is underpinned by these two great rules:
Expectations must be met or exceeded at all times. When we set an expectation whether it be a delivery of contact-point, we must meet or exceed the expectations we set. If in doubt, always add contingency and express the later date and time rather than let someone, and some company, down.
Communication has different audiences including these stakeholders:
You already know how to manage or fire-fight through time-critical periods, for example:
Here we are in a situation where the whole of your supply-chain and all stake-holders already know that there are threats to your ability to maintain the business, sustain the cash-flow and consolidate supply-chain relationships beyond the crisis. This calls for more strategic actions from you.
The key elements of communication will include this grounding principle:
Consider what it is like to be that stakeholder, customer, supplier and work out specifically what is concerning to them. Having listed these concerns down, your communication aim is to create a change in them from anxiety to calm; be empathetic; answer the concerns directly and leave nothing to their imagination.
This takes resolve. The effectiveness of this principled approach is obvious. When you decide what YOU want to tell stakeholders, you will leave out essentials and likely not step-up to the trickier communications, due to fear. But your fear will engender anxiety and potential distrust in your stakeholder; we must face-up to the challenges to avoid that and to protect our stakeholder relationships after the crisis is over.
Below are links to example-resources. Note that the Town-Hall approach to staff has been neglected; when people must be self-distancing, this option may not be available. Note also, that these resources will refer to new rôles for support, communication and infection-control issues; you will want to define these for your organization and others in the supply-chain.
Add contingency-time to any time-line you give for follow-up; remember, under-promise, over-deliver; this adage is more important right now than ever before.
Use the same grounding principle, above, to consider each set of stakeholders in any communication; answer all their perceived concerns. As you develop your communication, pick one or two trusted individuals that will be affected by the shutdown and seek their feedback. Use their feedback to advise and adapt your messaging accordingly. Remember, under-promise and over-deliver.
You will have already an Infection Control Plan (possibly as part of your Value Stream Mapping Infection, VSMI, investigation). This will likely involve several changes in work-culture including a change in shifts, the maximum number of people in each working area (including transit folk with fork-trucks, carts, inspections and maintenance etc.), as well as toilet area and any rest/catering facilities. You will also have decided on how people will clock-in and report while ‘distancing’ and whether you will have temperature checks or oxygen saturation measurements, require the wearing of masks before entering the facility and how you manage any shift-changes differently.
For office staff, virtual meetings from home (and elsewhere) have been proven, finally to work. In fact, there are other advantages beyond not having to commute and being able to balance life and work more effectively and leading to increased daily working-time, as reported earlier.
Actual meetings, even at the shop-floor level (with a large volume of air), are likely to be hazardous. As we know, speaking and especially loud speaking (and shouting) eject a much bigger volume of exhaled air and an infected person will be shedding both small droplets (that easily bi-pass or are not filtered by conventional surgical masks) as well as larger droplets that contain higher virus loads. Distancing may be difficult because of noise, though noise-attenuating ear-defenders will vastly improve the hearing of speech in noisy areas. Smaller, distanced, meeting between three or four people may still take place on the shop-floor though technology systems that allow sharing of ideas live could replace the need for many such meetings.
An advantage of virtual meetings is being able to look into the eyes and face of a virtual speaker with total attention, something that might be intimidating or strange in a real meeting. The extra information we can get looking directly into someone’s eyes offsets some of the disadvantages due to video quality issues that sometimes arise.
Moving from face-to-face meeting to virtual also allows us to change the dynamics of a regular, boring corporate meeting run by a bad facilitator. The dynamics are largely new to these people and a great opportunity for others to show leadership and participate, especially if using more app features.We can get more effective in other ways too. Massive waste occurs when people have on-the-hour starts and no fixed maximum period for ending; the more people in the ‘room’, the worse the waste. Now is a good time to do better. We propose ‘Agenda Frames’ (McLeod):
 McLeod, A. Self-coaching Leadership, Simple Steps from Manager to Leader, Wiley & Sons, 2007.