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How do you handle crisis communication when COVID-19 hits your organisation?

crisis-communication-mgmt-covid-19

Since 12 February 2020, Grace Assembly of God was hit with its first two cases of the COVID-19 virus.

Almost every day for 12 days, the newspapers in Singapore reported additional cases of people being infected.

Grace Assembly eventually became the second biggest cluster in Singapore (since the writing of this article).

Yes, I attend that church and serve as an executive board member.

No, I was not affected by COVID-19 nor was I under any home quarantine.

What do you do when your organisation is hit with the COVID-19 and how do you handle crisis communication at such times? 

I will be sharing from my personal lessons regarding crisis communication and share about how you can do it even if you are not in the corporate communications role.                                    

During that period, I wrote a series of 10 posts on Facebook that attracted probably tens of thousands of people reading, attention of The Straits Times and two websites: salthandlight and mothership

These posts attracted a total of 2271 likes, 313 comments and 353 shares from the time of writing. 

These happened in just a short span of 12 days. 

Disclaimer: My views are on my own and I do not represent Grace Assembly of God. 

1. Communicate fast and over-communicate. 

In this age where people are used to receiving all kinds of instant information at their fingertips, you need to communicate fast.

When a crisis hits, the people in your organisation will first look to you for an answer because you are a leader. If you don’t speak, they will speculate.

When the news first broke out in Channel News Asia that Grace Assembly was hit with the COVID-19, many people started asking questions.

Before you say anything, you might want to check with the corporate communications on what you can say.

You will want to share with your people enough details on what is happening and the considerations involved in making decisions to move forward.

People need to be assured that the leadership team has given much thought to every single decision that was made.

Some leaders think that it is an obvious fact, but your staff needs to hear it from you. 

Leaders sometimes think that communication means a one-off briefing.

Instead, they need to view communication as a period because there will always be new developments.

Besides, not everyone hears or understands it at first go or could even miss your earlier message.

Strive to communicate and over-communicate what has happened what how you are going to move forward.

2. Talk about the elephants in the room. 

There will always be concerns and fears. Know that fears are usually irrational and can get blown up, if you do not address them quickly.

Fear can lead to two kinds of information being spread: misinformation or disinformation.

Misinformation is false information that’s given without malice.

Disinformation is false information that’s given to deceive.

No matter which of the above is happening, it is important that as a leader, you pluck up the courage to acknowledge the pain and fear.

Call out the fears one by one and mitigate it by using information. The more informed a person is, the less likely they will fear.

For example, when the first two cases were confirmed in Grace Assembly, many people asked “Am I infected with COVID-19? Is my family safe?”

Many people asked “Am I infected with COVID-19? Is my family safe?”

To reduce their fears, the leadership shared with them how Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) contacting tracing process works. If you are at risk, MOH will contact you immediately and arrange for you to be quarantined.

According to MOH, “Close contact with a person infected with COVID-19” is defined as “contact within 2 metres for a prolonged exposure for 30mins”.

Providing the right kind of information is important to reduce fear. This helped a lot of people to understand that their risk is little.

Providing the right kind of information is important to reduce fear.

For some, no calls from MOH meant good news for them. 

3. Inspire hope and determination. 

Do not just provide a commentary of what happened.

You can’t tell people not to fear, it will happen. 

The question is how can we turn their attention to something more useful?

You can point them towards situations or stories that inspire hope and  determination

In my writings, I identified stories of how individuals volunteered to take care of those under home quarantine. They ran errands, delivered special lunches, gave many gifts and groceries to encourage those affected. 

There were also stories of how people sew masks to give to their friends and neighbours. Another person took a large 5-litre sanitizer, divided it out to many smaller bottles to give it away.

In times of crisis, leaders cannot just make statements. They need to share stories of how individuals came together, faced hardships and how they WILL overcome adversity together. 

 In times of crisis, leaders cannot just make statements. They need to share stories of how individuals came together, faced hardships and how they WILL overcome adversity together. 

This will galvanise people together and inspire hope and determination.

4. Ask from your people. 

In times of crisis, you might feel resource-strapped. I truly believe that if you take care of them during good times, they will rise up during difficult times. 

A lot of leaders that I know suffer from the “Messiah complex”, where they feel that they must come up with all the answers to save others. 

Perhaps during difficult times, ask your people to step up. 

In Grace Assembly’s situation, we managed to rally over 400 people, young and old, to volunteer to send food and run errands for those in need.

These volunteers encouraged the hearts of leaders by just stepping up to do more. It spoke volumes about their attitude and their willingness to go through this together.

Conclusion

During a time of crisis, leaders need to muster the courage to lead their people forward. There will always be a concern but it is always the leader’s job to help their people focus on the right things.

They need to turn fear into hope, despair into optimism and indifference into care.

 #coronavirus #covid19 #conversations #courage

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