Hani Weiss, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim – Retail, explains how to address crises and manage them efficiently from a communication perspective.
Covid-19 has tested our communication skills in a way many leaders have not yet faced in their career. The unprecedented nature of the current crisis has required effective leadership and strong communication skills from minute to minute. But when everyone is looking to their leaders for enduring guidance and inspiration, how can you ensure that you are communicating effectively at every level?
As leaders in the retail sector, we are demanded to think with clarity, express complex ideas, and share information with a multitude of audiences, both internally and externally. We must handle multiple flows of information within the organization, and among our customers, colleagues, partners, and stakeholders. Therefore, our view, at Majid Al Futtaim, is that communicating clearly and with authenticity is one of the most critical attributes of a strong leader.
The importance of leading with authenticity is validated by the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer special report on Covid-19. It found that, during the ongoing crisis, “my employer” was the most trusted institution by 18 points over business in general and NGOs, and by 27 points over government and media. This finding means that employer communications are the most credible source of information at this time. Knowing this, what are the steps we can take to communicate more authentically?
The art of speaking coherently to your audience
Considering the various stakeholders that we need to address as retail leaders, it is vital to know your audience and the messages they need to hear. In a crisis, clarity is critical. So, skip the jargon and use simple, universal language. To ensure that your audience receives your message, speak with brevity, and use meaningful, purpose-driven language. You likely have decisions to make that impact much of your audience, so keeping your language simple will ensure there is minimal space for confusion. This advice does not mean speaking in oversimplified terms. Rather, we hinder effective communication when the speaker fails to use language that is coherent to the listener. Further, the importance of using video calls at this time, to communicate effectively in the absence of physical meetings, is an essential tool at our disposal. Use this technology wisely, show your teams that you are engaging with them regularly, demonstrate your commitment to your shared cause, and maintain regular contact, even as circumstances begin to improve.
How to communicate your expectations
The need to provide clear expectations is paramount. Indeed, in times of crisis, we depend on other people to deliver on our expectations more than ever. We must go beyond merely stating what we need. The details are going to define our success. Give a clear time frame and provide as much context as possible. Make sure your team understands both what you need and why you need it. People across the retail sector will want to hear what you have to say in these challenging circumstances. Speak openly, in the right way, and you will go beyond communicating your expectations and begin to inspire and motivate greater levels of performance. As humans, we are hardwired to find a sense of meaning and will seek out a connection with our peers and within our organization. This need is true now more than ever.
Integrate your company’s purpose and values
We must establish a strong communication governance by communicating from a position of purpose. A strong purpose provides the heart and soul of what we want to say. It rallies colleagues towards a greater cause, cultivating engagement and loyalty. The same is true for a townhall speech, a debrief with your immediate senior team or a company update to your frontline colleagues. For the grocery retail sector in particular, this act of unifying our teams is most pressing, especially on the front line or in operations, as these colleagues need to understand the critical role they are playing for our societies to continue functioning. Furthermore, the importance of engaging with government leaders and business stakeholders, especially those concerned with the supply chain, is essential to ensure that we provide reassurance to those in decision-making positions. Our fellow leaders must be clear on how to manage an ongoing critical situation effectively and quickly – this demands we communicate well and leverage the full eco-system to ensure a mutually desired result.
Communication as a tool for recovery
As a leader, it is our job to make big decisions. We are also responsible for communicating these decisions to our teams, inspiring and motivating them to work towards their goals. Authentic communication supports you in this journey, increasing transparency, understanding, motivation – building trust and long-lasting relationships.
The impacts of Covid-19 may have a lasting impression on the economy. They will likely reshape many industries indefinitely, but as leaders, our ability to communicate effectively with all our people will be a defining characteristic in how well our businesses endure the challenges, and indeed, how effectively we recover in the near future.