“I wish I could rewind the clock and do it differently.” Bob, CEO of a mid-size organization lamented to his former colleague, Rick. A week earlier he had sent out an internal memo warning that things were about to change. Their entire industry would soon be affected due to emerging government regulations.
The day after the memo was sent, worst case scenarios were circulating throughout the company. The gossip mill was in full swing. Fear quickly spread to vendors and customers. Within 48 hours, Bob had hundreds of emails from concerned workers, vendors and customers.
“What could you have done differently? You shared the information you had at the time.” Rick earnestly attempted to support his friend.
“Rick, I didn’t have much information from the Feds. I should have been upfront with people that I was also in the dark.” The CEO confided.
“I know but you couldn’t have anticipated that people would react so badly.” Rick responded in a compassionate tone.
“I underestimated the importance of doing more than sharing facts. My memo wasn’t very warm and friendly.” Bob admitted.
For the past two decades, Bob had focused on building a loyal team around him. He had worked hard to build their trust and was confident he had achieved it. Now, with one poorly written document, he was surprised to see how quickly that trust could erode.
Here’s what also surprised Bob: how differently employees read written communication during times of stress and change.
Bob made some blunders. You don’t have to repeat his mistakes. As a leader, you can build trust during turbulent times by following these four writing tips:
Tip #1: Choose Every Word Carefully. This is critical. During times turbulent times, every word you write to your employees about the crisis will be scrutinized.
Bob’s Blunder: He used ‘unfortunate’ in his memo. Employees obsessed about the use of this word, convinced it reflected some dire meaning.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, could my reader derive some unintended meaning from my wording? If you are not sure, get a second opinion! (or third or fourth!)
Tip #2: Make a Human Connection. It has been said that people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you make them feel. This also applies to written communication. During turbulent times, employees look to leaders for reassurance and empathy. Conveying a human connection through writing fosters trust in leadership.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo came across as uncaring to employees since it lacked any expression of emotion.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, what expression of genuine emotion could I share with my readers to let them know I care?
Tip #3: Be Transparent. When you don’t have the full information to share, be willing to honesty explain your constraints. If you do not show transparency, you risk breaching the reader’s trust. In your writing, what you leave unsaid can be as important as what you say.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob’s memo left many questions unanswered. Bob failed to share with his readers that he was limited by the lack of information he was receiving from his source, the federal government.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I articulated why I can’t provide more detail?
Tip #4: More is Better. During a crisis, people can get overwhelmed. This reduces their ability to retain information. Your message may get lost. To ensure your communication is received, aim to increase the frequency of writing to employees about important issues. Repetition is key. Find ways to communicate important messages in different ways on a frequent basis during turbulent times.
Bob’s Blunder: Bob waited a few weeks between his first and second written communication about the changes and this caused concern among employees.
Do This: Before you press send, ask yourself, have I communicated how I will continue to keep people updated?
It has been said that the only constant in life is change. This may be truer than ever. How you communicate in writing during turbulent times can leave a lasting impression on those within your organization and beyond. Your people are watching not just what you do, but how you do it. By following these four tips, you can leave a lasting legacy within your organization – one that you will not look back and regret like Bob did.
About the Author
Dr. Julie Miller is President of Business Writing that Counts! Over the past 30 years, more than 750,000 people have participated in Business Writing That Counts! on-site and online writing courses and walked away with dramatically improved writing skills. Dr. Julie and her team are focused on increasing our clients’ bottom line by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of employees’ writing. Contact her at www.businesswritingthatcounts.com
Working from home by choice or by mandate presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges. If you’re new to telecommuting, you might find that without some discipline, you’re waking up well beyond normal work hours and adopting behaviors you would never exhibit on your worst day at the office.
In the beginning you might welcome a day or two late mornings and wearing pajamas past noon. However, sloth mimicry is a habit few professionals would enthusiastically adopt long term. To get the most out of telecommuting, you need to master some best practices.
Create and Maintain a Routine
Recognize the fact that telework requires self-discipline. A day of waking up at 5:00 am followed by one where you rise at 9:00 and another at 10:00 is a pattern on the path to disaster. Adopt some desk hours and stick with them. Also, be sure to take some regular breaks. You need to eat, you need to stand, and you need to stretch. You also need to turn off work when it’s time to go home. Unless you’re in a field that demands it, checking email at midnight is not a good idea. You need to establish psychological boundaries to keep work hours work hours and home hours home hours.
Learn New Technology and Leverage Old
When working from a distance, you should learn how to use popular web-conferencing software, get comfortable on camera, and get ready to meet regularly online. The world is moving to the virtual conference room, and you need to know how to operate in that space. “I don’t like being on camera,” “I’m not a tech person,” and “I’ll just call in,” are excuses that will leave you behind. Nobody looks their best on a webcam; that’s a fact. It’s also a fact that facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a big part of communication. If they’re missing, you’re missing out.
In addition to mastering video conferencing, if you’re working with a single screen, consider investing in one or two more. The extra room is a game changer, especially if you don’t have access to a high-speed printer and find yourself having to read a lot of documents on screen that you would have normally printed at the office.
Working alone saves hours, but the lack of chit chat created during casual interactions can also cause your relationships with your coworkers to suffer. To remedy the problem, you need to be deliberate in your communication and schedule time to catch up.
Set aside some minute during your workday to check in with coworkers. Not working on a project that requires meetings? Consider setting up a virtual lunch date instead. Most people who wake up one day feeling isolated and in a funk don’t have a contact plan in place. Prepare for regular social interactions before you start missing them.
Seek Out Opportunity
If you’re working from home and find yourself with extra hours on your hands, it’s time take initiative and learn some new skills. Anything you can do to expand your knowledge, work practices, or professional network could help you later.
- Consider developing an education plan for yourself. For example, instead of faking your way through PowerPoint, learn how to use the slide master, templates, and other features so that tool works for you the way in which its creators intended.
- Look for ways to make your work more efficient. Is it time to organize your email system? Could you benefit from creating rules, using folders, and getting your electronic communication under control once and for all? It can be done, it takes time, and if you have any minutes to spare that you otherwise would have spent commuting, seize the day.
- Get online and expand your business network. Brush up your LinkedIn profile, and start making connections. Look for people with whom you grew up, attended school, or shared an employer at some point during your career. You never know how your efforts to connect could benefit you and others in the future.
Working from home means you have to become more self-reliant. For example, an ounce of prevention can make all the difference when you encounter a tech upset.
Start with the basics. Think about your files and the tools you need to complete your work. For example, do you have a cloud backup? Do you have remote access software so someone in IT can help you if you hit a roadblock?
In addition to technology surprises, consider your short- and long-term goals. If your employer decided to eliminate telework, or your position for that matter, what would you do? Do you have a plan? It’s a lot easier to enact something you created when you weren’t stressed than to craft and start working on a solution when you are.
Create a disaster plan for one, and you’ll be ahead of most people when challenges arise.
Following routines, leveraging tech, being deliberate with communication, setting aside time for growth, and preparing for uncertainty are five ways you can get the most out of a work-at-home experience.
About the Author:
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.
Entrepreneurs, business owners, and company leaders in every industry are living in a state of overwhelm right now.
The rules of business have changed seemingly overnight, and many are struggling to adapt to the new normal of our current reality.
The number of decisions business owners and leaders need to make daily is staggering. How do we communicate with customers? What do we do about projects put on hold? How do we keep our employees safe? What kind of infrastructure do we need to support our remote workers? And of course, the biggest decision of all, what steps must we take to ensure our business survives this crisis?
Being a business owner or company leader requires you to be nimble and ready to react at a moment’s notice. But that doesn’t negate the fact that you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Now more than ever you need to commit to your goals and squash any fears that may be holding you or your company back.
The following 5 strategies will help you persevere through any challenge, stay on track with your dreams, and emerge from the crisis victoriously.
STATEGY ONE: Be Tenacious
As an entrepreneur, business owner, or company leader, you likely made the decision to be tenacious long ago. After all, if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be in the position you are today. Now is the time to double down on that commitment, not back away from it. Times of crisis demand boldness, innovation, and tenacity like no other. If you feel your tenacity wavering, pick a mantra that is powerful and motivating for you and have it play on a loop in your mind. Some common mantras leaders use to build their tenacity are “never give up,” “tough times don’t last; tough people do,” and “persistence breaks down resistance.” Pick a phrase that works for you and use it as your guide.
STRATEGY TWO: Look to Your Past Challenges and How You Overcame Them
We’ve all had to overcome challenges in the past. Whether it was a business failure, a job loss, the death of a loved one, or anything else, no one’s life is without obstacles. And, believe it or not, that’s a good thing, because by living and working through those setbacks, you learned some important and useful skills. Even though the current global challenge facing us may seem different than anything anyone has experienced in the past, the fact is that the skills you have honed over the years during other challenges are the same skills that will get you through the current crisis. Just as a skilled cyclist picks themselves up after a wipeout and can ride again, so can you if you focus on the skills you already have.
STRATEGY THREE: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
During times of crisis, you will need to try new things—maybe even things you never imagined you’d do. Often, that means being uncomfortable. For example, many business owners are now doing live videos on social media to stay in front of customers and prospects. While they may be very comfortable giving scripted messages to the camera, talking off the cuff, in a casual setting (such as their home), is very different. During any crisis, “business as usual” isn’t enough. Therefore, think about what new, uncomfortable things you can do to keep your company top-of-mind for your customers.
STRATEGY FOUR: Reinvent Your Message
If your sales have dropped or projects have been put on hold, taking a “wait and see” stance is dangerous. You need to keep your business profitable during the crisis, so you may need to reinvent or reposition your message and your offerings. The key is to find the pain your clients are having right now (which may be very different from the pain they were trying to address a mere 3 months ago), and then deliver solutions to meet their current needs. Realize that repositioning your offering often requires only a slight pivot, not a 180-degree change. Look at some examples currently occurring in communities across the country: restaurants offering grocery delivery services, distilleries making hand sanitizer, apparel and shoe makers adding face masks to their product line, etc. You already know how to reposition—you did it when you started your business or leadership position. Simply put that skill to work again now.
STRATEGY FIVE: Protect Your Company’s Culture
In order for your business to survive and thrive during a crisis, you need to nurture and protect the company culture you’ve worked so hard to create. This requires you to model strength for your employees, and to communicate honestly and often with them. The goal is to keep fear at a minimum and to make your employees feel safe. Let them know that they are doing a fabulous job during all the changes. Listen to their ideas. Ensure they feel part of the team and valued. Above all else, make sure they know—both by your words and your actions—that you are going to lead them through the storm.
STRATEGY SIX: Embrace the Challenge
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. And it’s true! In fact, often the best innovations come during times of crisis. The key is for you to assess the situation, determine where your business can add value, and then take action using the strategies outlined here. When you do, you’ll find that your company can weather any obstacle and emerge as the marketplace leader.
About the Author: Shelley Armato is CEO at MySmartPlans, a provider of best-in-class SaaS construction technology that eliminates risk, creates transparency and protects the budget. She provides professional construction services to some of the most prestigious business owners in the healthcare, scholastic, government, and other commercial market sectors. Contact her at www.mysmartplans.com.