Chief reputation officer and managing director at Reputation Management Caribbean Ltd Lisa Ann Joseph said the spread of the coronavirus and the lockdown under its spread are indications that companies should prepare for the unexpected.
Speaking to Business Day, Joseph said, “No one imagined this happening within this lifetime, but it happened and companies had to adapt immediately.” This adaptation, she said, involved more regular and intimate levels of communication between an organisation’s leaders and its teams and clients.
She urged companies to analyse their crisis communication plans to ensure they are not confined to addressing natural disasters, but will now include approaches necessary in the event of another epidemic/pandemic.
Leaders of organisations need to take this unprecedented situation as an opportunity to assess, to decide what can be done differently in preparation for the new normal, Joseph said. “We need to reassess our operational and crisis management approaches based on what has happened and look at how we can create this new normal or to respond to what this new normal may bring. It will not be business as usual. Organisations should take the time to plan if they haven’t already.”
She said while companies have responded to the pandemic in the best possible ways, management and leadership teams ought to pay closer attention to things such as succession planning, where an organisation identifies replacements for team leaders in the event of leaders being unable to carry out their usual functions, for instance, due to sickness or death.
“Organisations must ensure there are also crisis management teams in place.”
Cross-training is a feature of management that Joseph said has been exercised during the covid19 crisis and has proven itself beneficial as a worthwhile practice for companies. Cross-training ensures members of staff are equipped to fulfil the tasks necessary for the continued smooth operation of the company, outside the realms of their core responsibilities.
“This crisis has called for workers to be cross-trained. In instances where people may have been laid off, staff remaining had to take on additional work. Companies, going forward, may have to ensure cross-training is part of their new mode of operation in the event of a crisis.”
During the lockdown, companies across a range of industries saw their employees working from home. Joseph said this may be used as a trial period for potentially useful, progressive and efficient practices going forward.
“This has allowed us to see how we can use technology to get the same tasks done in a new way. Technology has proven itself as a way through which we can be even more effective and work smarter.”
Joseph said other changes including the restrictions on travel may give companies “aha moments” regarding another practice worthy of reconsideration. “Companies, where many team members travel regularly, are not able to do so during this time, but the job is still being done. This should prompt companies to reassess if it is necessary, or if the company could benefit long term, from cutting international travel costs.”
This may not only benefit the company regarding expenditure, but it could also benefit employees as money saved could result in increased salaries, while reduced travel on a large scale would also have a positive effect on the environment by reduced carbon emissions.
One great takeaway from the covid19 crisis, she said, is also the power of an open floor for a constant flow of communication.
“I am not saying people need to communicate every day or communicate constantly throughout each day but the emphasis should be placed on communicating regularly for organisations where it was not a dominant part of company culture.”
She said many organisations do not have each organ communicating regularly under normal circumstances due to the impression that they are part of a well-oiled machine.
However, while many teams work from home, the use of digital media for communication has proven to be most effective in allowing organisations to maintain a steady rhythm of productivity and team management.
Maintaining this would, therefore, undoubtedly reap great rewards in efficiency when things reopen to what she referred to as the new normal.
“This allows team members to have a greater understanding of what is happening in the company and how valuable their role is to the day-to-day operations.”
Joseph said, “During a discussion with a client, we advised him that a powerful communication approach in this time of crisis is leaders communicating directly with team members on every level. So, this specific CEO picked up his phone and called each member of staff who, because of their role in the organisation, could not work from home. He told each of them thanks for coming out and checked in to ensure they were coping well with the changes and uncertainty of the time. That mattered to them.”
This, she said, is not the typical crisis communication response, but rather “icing on the cake. In the same way the country found ways of showing appreciation to healthcare professionals and other workers who had to be on the frontline.”
Asked what the new normal may look like, Joseph said, “I see an environment where greater emphasis will be placed on the needs of both customers and the team. It calls for greater attention to even the psychological needs of team members in times of crises. Organisations will, therefore, have to ensure they are a bit more flexible in responding to their needs – making the needs of their customers and employees as important as making a profit. It will force us to keep our people at the fore of our minds during decision-making processes.”
The importance of organisations placing greater emphasis on the human element is one which Joseph believes is a powerful driving force to keep any team operating at its best, in and outside moments of crisis.
She said if organisations do not use this as an opportunity to reimagine themselves, something is wrong. “Companies should realise the importance of paying close attention to their communication plans in ensuring awareness can be maintained across all arms of the organisation for the well being of the whole.”