Master These Communication Loops Amid COVID-19

Keep these three elements in mind when working through a crisis like the current pandemic, advises Dru Armstrong of Grace Hill.
Dru Armstrong

There are three sequential communications loops that need to be put in place to steady your organization’s ship in times like this.

First, focus on your team. Research firm Forrester has uncovered that initially only about 43 percent of employees surveyed believe their organization has a plan for what’s happening. That has to be pinned down immediately.  That includes the emotional health of your employees and customers.

Second, focus on your customers and other external audiences. There are clear processes for this based on past panics that may have been smaller, but follow the same rhythms.

Third, install business continuity planning for the duration. This means running the scenarios, finding the risks and opportunities and prioritizing where you need a plan. And communicating it out to all your critical business stakeholders—leadership, lenders, vendors, clients and partners.

Communications shouldn’t be confused with broadcasting something for everyone to hear. Communications means installing an information loop that allows you to share guidance and insight, pull in feedback and insight from your employees and communicate anew in a smarter and smarter fashion.

How it works

First, companies should be focusing on employees and their ability to deliver to customers in the first week of those leaders devoting their full attention to the COVID-19 crisis that’s taking hold. Next, with employees steadied and refocused on the new world at hand, concentrate on tuning up the communication loops with customers—your residents and your tenants.

Multifamily housing is a unique part of the economy, because when everyone shelters in place, they are sheltering in their home. But if that home is an apartment building, it is where property management teams work, and in many cases live as well.  That makes this part all the more important.

In the third week, teams should have the rhythm of embracing the new unknowns that emerge at a fast pace. Everyone then needs to take a harder look at those unknowns and make sure planning is shaping up as fully as anyone can see what’s coming next and how we will all continue to evolve. Ensuring the worst case scenario is covered can’t be emphasized enough.

Of course, these three phases aren’t as cleanly separated as one would like to imagine and weeks may need to be cut down into shorter increments. In reality, every business is doing a combination of all three, but over time leaders can focus more and more on the next loop. That’s why they’re loops.

Loops

The nature of a crisis like the one we’re working through now is that what leaders communicated last week needs to take into account what is happening today. For all three of these to work, leaders must reach out to employees and make sure they have the ability to speak up and share what they’re worried about. The same is true with reaching out to residents and tenants. Together this brings a clearer picture for business continuity planning.

If the loop is not closed on all three of these, all solutions will be temporary.

Don’t be afraid

Crisis can mean that some employees and residents may not know whether they should reach out, for fear that they will disturb someone with bigger problems. Everyone is facing this crisis on both a personal and professional level and no one wants to waste anyone’s time—given how finite and precious it is today. 

Deloitte points out that in a crisis all of us revert to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to basic desires such as safety, security and health. What that really means is businesses need to reach out and create opportunities for customers to guide the business on how the customers’ needs are aligning with what the company is doing, or not.

In the normal course of business, businesses should be working to hear the voice of their customers, residents and tenants and their employees, every day. The truth is now more than ever, it’s more important to hear them. Keep lines of communication open. Keep normal pathways of feedback open. Companies can only respond if they know how customers are feeling.  Silence is dangerous.

Pulse surveys and other tools can be useful to scaling as leaders look to close the loop. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions—how are you doing? how are we doing?

Breathing

But to maintain focus, you have to breath.

A crucial thread in all of this is teams need to stop occasionally and learn to laugh together. Leaders have to model how to be open about what they don’t know and how to solicit answers and ownership. This goes all the way through the organization. When members of the team are not problem-solving, they can be taking in new training, and they can frankly have some fun and let off steam.

Part of this is can be called the “learning forward” model. Executives support and provide guidance rather than exert command over staff. In turn, employees adapt and learn how to be flexible in environments where customers, technology and markets are constantly evolving. 

Obviously, companies need someone to be in charge. There’s a lot of good reasons why C-level executives are designated decision makers. The mechanism for how executives reach their conclusions, however, needs to be a lot more open-sourced and collaborative if they want to maintain stakeholder confidence in today’s new world, and what’s coming next. Putting in place these three communications loops helps.


Dru Armstrong is CEO of property technology company Grace Hill, which focuses on policy, training and assessment software designed to develop, retain and build talent.