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This issue of Communication Command contains an interview about "How One Woman's Journey Prepared Her to Lead in This Difficult Time" and an article titled "10 Tips for Effective Employee Communication in the Time of COVID-19." We hope you will enjoy our e-Newsletter.
Summer 2020
Our COVID-19 Response 
C4CS® is assisting companies across industries with their response to COVID-19 and other challenging issues and situations. We are also conducting more free webinars that focus on best practices in the areas of crisis management, strategic communication, and leadership in times of crisis (see event announcements below).
Our consulting, online training, and remote executive coaching continue to be in demand at a time when many management teams have to make far-reaching decisions on an almost daily basis.
The expert interview on the right discusses effective leadership in the time of COVID-19 and sheds light on our remote media skills coaching.
We invite readers of our e-Newsletter to fill out our C4CS® COVID-19 Response Survey (see news item below).
In case you have questions or would like to schedule a free initial consultation, please send an email to info@c4cs.com.
C4CS® COVID-19 Response Survey
In addition to communicating what we have learned during this challenging time, we want to give other professionals the opportunity to share insights related to the pandemic with our e-Newsletter readers around the world.
In April, we published the results of our first COVID-19 survey. Today, our team would appreciate your responses to a new set of questions. Please access our survey and submit your answers online by Monday, August 24. Thank you for providing your input.
NOVID: Effective COVID-19 Contact Tracing
C4CS® has been providing pro bono assistance to NOVID in order to help stop COVID-19 with ultrasonic accuracy. Anonymously and reliably trace exposure to COVID-19 and keep yourself and others healthy. NOVID is a uniquely effective contact tracing solution that protects you from others before you get exposed. More information is available on the NOVID website. Please consider downloading the free app today and contact NOVID at hello@novid.org in case of questions.
 Webinar: Managing and Mitigating Risk
C4CS® President & CEO Oliver S. Schmidt and Roberta Anderson Sutton, a partner and practice group leader at Potomac Law Group, will conduct a complimentary risk management webinar on "Resilience and Recovery - What You Need to Know About Effective Crisis Management" on Monday, August 17, 2020. Please click here to register for the event.
If your organization would like to have C4CS® make a presentation or contribute to a panel discussion, please contact us at info@c4cs.com.
Panel Discussion: Leveraging the Fifth Estate
C4CS® Senior Vice President Dianne Chase will moderate a panel discussion on "Leveraging the Fifth Estate to Advance Your Message" hosted by E4 Carolinas on Thursday, August 20, 2020. Additional information and registration instructions are available via this link.
Webinar: COVID-19 Employee Communication 
C4CS® President & CEO Oliver S. Schmidt has accepted an invitation by the International Consortium for Organizational Resilience (ICOR) to conduct a webinar on "Effective Employee Communication in the Time of COVID-19" on Monday, August 24, 2020. More information and webinar registration are available here.
Presentation Skills CLE Class
C4CS® Vice President Anne Linaberger and President & CEO Oliver S. Schmidt will conduct an online Continuing Legal Education class on "Effective Presentation Skills for Legal Professionals" for the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA) on Friday, September 11, 2020. More information and registration information can be accessed here.
If your organization would like to have a C4CS® team member develop a class, conduct an online training, or discuss an executive coaching session, please reach out to us at info@c4cs.com.
Pittsburgh Chemical Day Presentation
C4CS® Senior Consultant Dr. Frank Mink and President & CEO Oliver S. Schmidt have accepted the invitation to make a presentation on "Managing Regulatory, Investment and Litigation Risk Through Understanding Toxicological Impacts and Effective Strategic Communication" at the Pittsburgh Chemical Day in October. Additional information will be communicated once it becomes available.
C4CS®
e-Learning Course
Professionals interested in our e-Learning course on Harnessing the Power of Social Media in a Crisis may download the course brochure via this link.
Congratulations to those who completed the course work and obtained a Certificate in Social Media Crisis Management Planning accredited by ICOR.
If you have questions concerning our e-Learning course, please contact us at training@c4cs.com.
Past e-Newsletter Issues
Please click here if you would like to access past issues of our Communication Command e-Newsletter, which reaches professionals in several dozen countries around the world.
Five Questions about How One Woman's Journey Prepared Her to Lead in This Difficult Time
 
Elizabeth Hughes, JD is president of the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA) and Associate Counsel at UPMC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
 
Elizabeth Hughes
What was your path to becoming an attorney and the 2020/2021 president of the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA)? 
 
My path to becoming an attorney was what I would consider “non-traditional.” I was a Psychology major in college and originally thought that I wanted to obtain my doctorate, enter a career in forensic psychology, and do profiling work. When I reached the final semester of my senior year, I decided that this was not what I wanted to do. However, I also had no idea what I was going to do with a Psychology degree. My academic advisor was the first person who planted the seeds of law school in my mind. She told me she thought that it was a good fit given my skills and thought processes. However, it would be another seven years before I actually acted on her wise counsel.

I went to law school at age 30, after living in Phoenix, Arizona for six years and working as a child and adolescent mental health case manager and subsequently coordinating the City of Phoenix’s youth violence prevention program through its At Risk Youth Division. While working in Phoenix, I knew that I wanted to pursue some type of advanced degree and kept going back in my head to what my academic advisor had suggested. Working with youth really inspired me to make my dream a reality. I was always telling them that they could be or do whatever they wanted, and I felt that those were words to live by, not just for them but for myself. Working with teens keeps you accountable because you cannot tell them something and then not live up to that yourself. You are a constant role model. When I finally settled on going to law school, I decided that I wanted to go back to Pittsburgh. That led me to the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. 
 
My journey to becoming the President of the Allegheny County Bar Association has been the logical progression of my involvement with the ACBA and the ultimate way to give back to an organization that has been instrumental in shaping my career and the source of many friendships. I joined the ACBA shortly after becoming licensed to practice law. It has been a welcoming, collegial, and supportive group of professionals from day one. I have served on various committees and in other leadership roles within the organization. I find so much value in serving and reaching out to younger lawyers and law students to share my experiences and encourage their involvement in the ACBA. Starting my term under challenging circumstances brought on by a pandemic was not what I had envisioned. I am proud to lead the ACBA at a time when it remains strong for its members and provides important resources and support to its members during this time. 
 
As president of the ACBA, I choose to look at all of the challenges facing our profession as an opportunity for progress and a chance to effect tangible, meaningful change. This is a chance for us to reshape the way we practice law and embrace technology and reach more of our colleagues by using virtual platforms. We will continue to incorporate this type of engagement with our members, even after we are again able to meet in person. This is also an opportunity for us to address and act against, as I believe is our responsibility as lawyers, racial injustice and to have a voice in shaping reform and new polices related to policing and demanding fairness in our justice system. 

What are your goals for the ACBA presidency and your legal practice?
 
We have many things planned this year. Whether we move to in-person meetings and activities soon or not, we will continue the “ACBA Virtual Town Halls.” We have hosted several of these virtual meetings, and they have proven to be a resounding success. I want to promote transparency, especially in these uncertain times so our members know that we are working through complex issues to sustain our organization. To that end, we also plan to share brief video summaries of monthly Board of Governors meetings to keep the membership informed. I want to ensure that we are providing members with timely and relevant information. I also really want to focus on encouraging members to use and embrace technology, as we have seen how crucial a tool it has become in the face of COVID-19. Additionally, our 2020 law school graduates are facing unprecedented conditions, including the delay of bar exams due to COVID-19. I want to see our members assist by providing mentoring opportunities in firms and in non-traditional JD advantage roles. I think that we could be very successful in matching recent graduates with solo or small firms, where the lawyer mentors can help by teaching these recent grads the ropes and the recent grads, being tech savvy, can assist the lawyer or firm with the integration of improved technology. 
 
Finally, our ACBA Mission Statement sets forth the ideals of our organization: to empower our members; promote a just, accessible, and inclusive judicial system; and serve the community at large. It is precisely during these difficult times that we, who have chosen the legal profession as a way to serve others, can live up to these ideals. In light of the recent protests and social awakening regarding the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and other unarmed black men and women, the ACBA is forming an ad hoc committee to examine police use of force. This committee will be comprised of ACBA members, along with representatives from community organizations, law enforcement, local government and academia, engage in crucial conversations about race and policing, and to offer recommendations for legislative change and codes of conduct.

How does Covid-19 impact your day-to-day work and your leadership of the ACBA?

The pandemic has obviously presented barriers to us getting together in person for ACBA meetings and activities. We previously held all of our meetings and our live Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs in person. The ACBA is also a very social group of lawyers who enjoy the networking and fellowship that is offered by the organization. In that respect, things have been tough because we really miss each other and attending our hallmark events. The positive is that we were able to move almost seamlessly into remote operations of the ACBA and into virtual meetings and events when we knew this was going to be a long term situation which demanded that we keep our members and the ACBA staff safe. COVID-19 has also had an effect on our revenue sources. We are hence working extra hard to be good financial stewards of the organization. Thankfully, our history of positive leadership and financial responsibility has provided us with some stability in this respect, and we will continue to meet these challenges, try to find creative solutions, and look for alternate sources of revenue. 
 
As it relates to the legal profession overall, COVID-19 has necessitated that we take stock of how we accomplish day to day tasks that we formerly took for granted. It also forces us to consider how the pandemic will change things permanently in the future. The legal profession in particular can be one that is slow to change and to embrace technology. I think this is born out of the responsibility that we feel in effectively representing our clients, which can prove difficult to accomplish from afar. Moving forward, I believe that there will be new ways of participating in court proceedings and I do think that there are some benefits to clients in that, particularly from a financial standpoint and an access to justice standpoint. I think that incorporating more remote proceedings at certain stages of cases can save many litigants precious time and money and alleviate childcare and transportation challenges. 
 
Thankfully, I have been able to largely accomplish my own work with my employer through remote means and I have only recently started to go back into the office two days per week. We are on a rotating schedule, so there are very few people in the office at the same time for safety considerations. I do miss the collegiality of our department and the natural collaboration that comes from being in an office environment where you can just wander into a colleague’s office and brainstorm about some challenging legal issue you might be working on.

How will the media skills coaching you recently received help you in the future?

I really feel that the media skills coaching I received has provided me with useful information and a toolbox to use when opportunities to speak on behalf of my organization arise. I have taken C4CS® Vice President Anne Linaberger’s advice that practice is key to heart and make sure that I am prepared as best as possible for each media interview.
 
Being proactive and seeing to it that I am familiar with the nuances of current issues that I may be asked to comment on are things I now focus on. Following my media skills coaching session, I felt much more confident about the prospect of answering questions from the media. The one-on-one coaching also alleviated the fear of being ambushed with unexpected questions.
 
Will what you learned about message development as well as verbal and nonverbal message delivery also be useful in your work as and attorney?
       
The skills I gained by working with Anne are absolutely transferable to every aspect of what I do daily at work and in my other leadership roles. I believe that the ability to develop concise messages and communicate clearly and effectively is an invaluable quality for lawyers to possess. We have to be able to communicate with our clients, with other attorneys, etc. And that often involves answering difficult or even adversarial questions. What I learned from the media skills coaching translates to all of these situations.

10 Tips for Effective Employee Communication in the Time of COVID-19
 
Even if an organization handles the managerial and operational details of its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic well, the entire crisis response is bound to fail if communication with internal and external stakeholders is not timely, truthful, consistent, and coordinated. A botched communication response not only leads to unwanted stakeholder scrutiny, but it can cause significant physical and emotional harm as well as severe and lasting damage to stakeholder trust, reputation, and the bottom line. 

While pandemic related information needs are extensive across all stakeholder groups, catering to the communication needs of employees is especially important when it comes to mastering the challenges that COVID-19 has given rise to. As a result, employee communication must increase in volume and frequency and effectively inform, educate, and empower employees. In addition, enabling employee feedback and developing, testing, and delivering clear and easy-to-understand messages must be prioritized.

The following 10 tips are designed to help decision makers at all levels of the corporate hierarchy manage potentially crippling adversity and actively preserve and even enhance the company’s reputation and competitiveness in the face of COVID-19.

1. Plan and be prepared 

A successful response to the pandemic demands making and effectively communicating far-reaching and emotionally difficult decisions while under enormous pressure and often lacking complete or fully accurate information. Proper crisis preparedness planning therefore demands putting the necessary organizational structure, processes, and tools in place as soon as possible. 

Develop, implement, and continuously improve a customized crisis communication strategy and matching crisis communication plan. Assign COVID-19 related internal and external communication responsibilities and thoroughly train the designated employees and their back-ups. Appoint communicators to the corporate and, if applicable, national, regional, and local COVID-19 response teams. Build realistic pandemic related scenarios upon which recurring crisis communication training and crisis management exercises are based. 

2. Maintain ongoing dialogue 

Management has a much greater chance of achieving its business and corresponding communication objectives if there is an ongoing and constructive dialogue with employees and other stakeholders long before a crisis occurs. Unfortunately, many companies fail in this and lack internet and media monitoring to identify and better understand the expectations and needs of external and internal stakeholders. 

If employees are used to certain regular communication, see if the same channels and tools also work well during the pandemic and make necessary adjustments for instance due to the switch to home offices. In addition, develop, test, and implement new communication channels and tools that are better suited to facilitate two-way communication with employees throughout the organization.

3. Talk to employees first

Whenever possible, internal crisis communication should precede communication with external stakeholders. It is for example vital that employees do not hear negative COVID-19 news affecting their organization and employment from outside sources first. This will alienate them and hinder otherwise successful pandemic response and recovery efforts. Engaging in an honest dialogue with as many employees as possible also fosters better understanding and employee support for possibly unpopular yet necessary steps company leadership must take to secure the future of the business.

Whichever method of internal crisis communication a company may choose, the more upfront management is about what is happening, the better-informed and more entrusted employees feel. Those employees who are communicated with in an open, timely and truthful way are not only able, but also often willing to represent their company and support its goals internally as well as externally. This is especially true in the time of COVID-19.

4. Eradicate uncertainty 

Underestimate the importance of effective employee communication during this pandemic and your company will suffer avoidable economic damage due to, among other factors, a lack of trust, low morale, and the subsequent loss of trained and dedicated employees. 

To successfully manage the COVID-19 response it is necessary to increase the internal communication volume and frequency because employees have a high demand for updated information as well as the desire to provide continuous feedback. 

Ask the following questions before communicating with employees: 

     1. What is the desired communication outcome?

     2. What will be communicated?

     3. Who will initiate the communication?

     4. Which employees will be communicated with?

     5. Where and how will the communication happen?

     6. When will the communication take place?

Ask these questions after communicating with employees and as part of the evaluation and ongoing crisis preparedness planning process:

     1. Were the communication objectives met?

     2. How can we do better?

5. Tackle employees’ questions 

Employees’ questions and concerns should be systematically anticipated, identified, and responded to on an ongoing basis. Because employees’ trust in management’s ability to handle the pandemic is critical, even those questions and concerns that seem unimportant or inconvenient should be addressed.

Especially in cases where the company may be responsible for any harm to employees – for example in connection with a positive COVID-19 test result – , consider communicating empathy as well as a clear explanation of the steps the company is taking to deal with the situation and prevent recurrences. However, do not base the messages on the views of management alone. Be sure to take into account the perceptions, opinions, and expectations within different stakeholder and employee groups. Also bear in mind any legal and other restrictions on the dissemination of certain information relating to the situation.

6. Create communication allies 

Do not forget that employees have a vested interest in working with management to prevail over the pandemic and ensure the survival and ongoing competitiveness of the company. Many employees are very eager to put in extra time and effort to turn the ship around. Guide employees in their effort to speak up for the company internally and externally. 

Empowering employees to take charge in times of crisis creates valuable communication allies who reinforce messages within the organization and carry them into the community. Remember that despite the wealth of sophisticated technology at the disposal of today’s professionals, face-to-face communication between supervisors and their direct reports remains one of the most effective communication tools.

7. Communicate facts, feelings, and actions

At this time of heightened anxiety, economic turmoil, and an unknown future due to Covid-19, succinctly communicating facts, feelings, and actions is more important than ever before. Managers must carefully listen to employees and openly communicate what is known (facts), how they feel about it (feelings), and what they are doing about it (actions).

                   

Taking control of the development and delivery of compelling messages in this way eliminates conjecture and alleviates fears. In the absence of facts, stakeholders will fill such voids with inaccurate information fueled by fear and misinformation. Without understanding how leaders feel, stakeholders experience isolation and a greater sense of being alone. If actions and the reasoning behind them are not clearly communicated, these same stakeholders experience unease, concern, and alarm because they do not know what to expect.

8. Be consistent in messaging 

With the goal of coherent messages and simultaneous communication in mind, more and more companies implement a one-voice-policy which dictates that only appropriately trained and designated employees, who are electronically linked with senior management and one another, may act as company spokespersons. The one-voice-policy may be difficult to uphold during COVID-19 as employees have a natural tendency to talk about stressful work-related events with family and friends, perhaps criticizing management’s handling of the situation.

However, a disgruntled employee sharing proprietary or damaging information on social media or with reporters poses a much more serious risk. Not only would this behavior sabotage the company’s one-voice-policy, but it may also diminish or even erase resources-intensive crisis response efforts. The development and implementation of a company-wide one-voice-policy is therefore a worthwhile investment.

9. Convince leaders on feedback 

Employees appreciate and increasingly demand feedback options such as face-to-face meetings and technology-enabled two-way communication. But the best-laid crisis communication strategy may not work if continuous employee feedback is not included in management’s decision-making.

Use the following three arguments if you need to convince managers of the value of employee feedback in the time of COVID-19:

  1. Employee feedback allows management to track whether messages have reached the intended groups of employees and achieved the desired results.
  2. Employee feedback enables management not only to track employees’ opinions, perceptions, and expectations, but it also may reveal what colleagues and external stakeholders are sharing with employees.
  3. Employee feedback often contains valuable information and suggestions for minimizing damage, seizing opportunities, and enabling necessary change.

10. Involve senior management

COVID-19 causes unprecedented pressure and uncertainty for employees. To prevent rumors, false information and panic, senior management must be at the forefront of providing distressed employees across organizational hierarchies with relevant information, guidance, and motivation. It is particularly important to appropriately address concerns in connection with employee health and safety as well as the future of the company.

Aside from communicating with employees by way of traditional channels and tools, online communication solutions that facilitate two-way communication such as Slack, Yammer, or Zoom are becoming increasingly popular and essential to connect and communicate with employees in different locations. 

In the last decade, many companies have continued to develop and critically improve their increasingly technology-driven approaches to communicating with external stakeholders in the event of a crisis. However, far too many management teams do not realize or fail to act upon the fact that effective employee communication is equally if not more crucial to successfully managing a systemic crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19. 

Regardless of a company’s size, reputation, or industry, preparing for effective employee communication in the time of COVID-19 inevitably calls for assigning responsibilities, training employees, and establishing tools that enable seamless vertical – top-down as well as bottom-up – and horizontal employee communication, even in the face of extreme stress.

Only if the systematic planning, implementation, and evaluation of a company’s employee communication are conducted company-wide and on an ongoing basis, will management be able to rely on this valuable instrument for minimizing COVID-19-related damage, seizing the opportunities the pandemic may present, and converting resulting organizational change into competitive advantages.

Effective employee communication is an indispensable component of a successful crisis response and particularly important as organizations must navigate seemingly innumerable challenges posed by COVID-19. If management does not have the necessary theoretical knowledge or crisis communication experience, leadership should consider retaining qualified external consultants. They can assist in boosting the company’s ability to effectively respond to and recover more quickly from the pandemic.
 

This article was written by C4CS® President & CEO Oliver S. Schmidt and published by the Risk and Resilience HUB in June. It can be accessed via this link.

C4CS® provides strategic communication and crisis management consulting, training, and executive coaching to corporate, government, and nonprofit client partners in need of advice as they navigate COVID-19.

If you have questions for us, or should you be interested in receiving additional information and assistance, please send an email to info@c4cs.com.
We look forward to hearing from you.
 
Food For Thought
 

Every business is going to have a Covid employee.
It’s not if you’re going to have a Covid-positive employee, but when.”

Emily Williams Knight, Chief Executive Officer of the Texas Restaurant Association


 
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Leaders in Strategic Communication
and Crisis Management


info@c4cs.com
www.c4cs.com