Now is not the time for “no news is good news”: what to communicate to your stakeholders now

What to communicate to your stakeholders now

As the stay-home-work-safe order continues into week five (or six for some businesses), uncertainty, tension, and fear continues to grow. Now more than ever, firm leaders need to share with their stakeholders the current situation on the ground, and what is planned for the immediate future.

Many small businesses were not able to secure loans during the initial round of funding provided by the CARES Act. Confusion remains about construction administration and site visitation. Materials and equipment shortages are delaying and suspending work. And recent mixed messages from state and federal leaders has left many wondering just when businesses can and should reopen. What does all this mean for your employees, clients, project partners, and suppliers?

The reality is that many executives just don’t know, because this worldwide pandemic is unprecedented on so many levels. But this is not the time to adapt a “no news is good news” mentality. In a void of information, people are left to their own devices to fill it. Instead, provide your information in your own words.

Who – define your broad categories of stakeholders, then list all those within each category

What – give a candid assessment of current firm operations

Where – use a variety of different channels and consider what is best for your stakeholders

When – on a regular interval until your firm returns to at or near pre-COVID 19 working conditions

Who

This is the universe of people who touch your firm’s operations. Your employees are first and foremost. Include your clients, project teammates and affiliated partners, and vendors/suppliers. If you don’t have the resources to develop communications for all stakeholders on a regular basis, maintain your employee communications at the minimum.

What

We’re well past talking about the basics of hand-washing and sanitizing. Share with stakeholders the steps you are taking to maintain operations and deliver projects. Employees need honest and clear information about your ability to pay them. Even as guidelines for specific aspects of project delivery continue to change, tell clients how you are addressing their immediate needs based on guidance from your respective professional association (AIA, AGC, etc.)

Where

Take advantage of all the communications channels at your disposal, with the intent of meeting stakeholders where they are. Remember that different channels have different pros and cons; a video takes longer to produce but conveys emotion better, email is easy and efficient but less personal, and messaging from apps like Slack is instant but can be misunderstood or interpreted as insensitive. Mix it up and use all the channels your stakeholders are using.

When

Weekly communications would be ideal, IF you have new information to share. There’s no need to repeat the same thing every week. As the situation evolves, so do firms in response. Did you receive SBA funding? Great! Tell employees generally how that will impact them. Is one of your biggest material suppliers now delayed on deliveries for six weeks? Tell clients and teammates how the project schedule will be adjusted accordingly. The point is to give your stakeholders information in your own words before they have a chance to hear it elsewhere or arrive at their own speculations.

Some additional points to remember:

  • Communications with your stakeholder is about THEM, not you. Once written, count how many times your firm name is referenced vs. the number of times the stakeholder is mentioned. Aim for three times the number of stakeholder mentions.
  • No one expects your firm to know all the COVID-19 answers, but they do expect to hear from you.
  • Keep it short and straightforward.
  • Let stakeholders know when they can expect to hear from you again. Just like sitting on an airplane that’s been delayed for take-off, it’s nice to hear that a situational update will be coming.

It’s a cliché for a reason – we are ALL in this together. Until we are back to business (though it may look much different than what was “usual” before), be present with your stakeholders through your communications. Not only will it reinforce your commitment to them, your stakeholders will already know what they can expect from you when the economy fully reopens.

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