Corporate community leadership and management in times of crisis


Corporate community leadership and management in times of crisis

In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is plenty of information about working remotely and crisis communications.  This post is about neither of these.  I want to focus on the role communities within organisations can play in supporting people through times of crisis

The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that in the last 2 years the most trusted people are now my employer and, after scientists, my fellow citizens in my country and in my community.  And whilst people are most reliant on news organisations for information on the coronavirus, it is, in fact, employer communications that are the most believed source.  This places a great expectation on organisational leaders, corporate communicators and community managers as employees turn to them and their work community for trusted answers.  So how can we address this?  How can we build community resilience and demonstrate care?

“Leadership in communities is as much about influence as it is authority”

Make your intranet your source of truth

With all the talk of collaboration and remote working tools, it can be easy to forget the humble intranet.

Make sure you have a dedicated page for the crisis response and that you are linking to the credible expert sources.  Your “sponsorship” of government or health sources passes on your trusted position to these. Use this page as the source of truth and link to it from any communications you send out and add it as a tab in any collaboration tools, such as Teams, so it is easy to get clear and consistent information out to different groups of colleagues.

Have a prominent link or news item on the intranet homepage so people can find it quickly – ideally show when it was last updated to keep people’s confidence it is accurate.  Call out any specific actions clearly and consider having sections on what you know and don’t know.  People are looking to see if colleagues have been affected, and what steps they need to take.

Activate and engage your employee community 

Tools like Teams helps get the work done remotely but doesn’t always engage the community or cut across pockets of knowledge. This is where enterprise social networks (ESNs) like Yammer come into their own. 

Whilst your intranet gives you your source of truth, your ESN gives your employees a voice.  Set up a crisis community to allow them to raise concerns and questions as it’s better to know what they are than think they don’t exist if you can’t see them.  Use it to ask for their help or ideas. Set up an official profile such as “Company News” to act as a spokesperson, posting links back to the intranet and giving the official view in any answers. It will save time and effort when people look at their ESN feed. 

Run Q&A sessions with senior leaders at set times to connect them to the issues faced by remote workers and frontline staff.  It makes the leadership team both present and visible. 

Coach your leaders

Leadership in communities is as much about influence as it is authority so make sure your leadership team feel confident to participate in your network.  In a crisis, the situation can change rapidly so have leaders post updates as close to real-time as possible and be authentic. Don’t try to control the narrative – you have the intranet page for that. Instead control how you react. Use natural language and if you don’t know the answers yet, say so. 

Remind them that the ESN is really an extension of the workplace, so ask them what they would say if they were briefing a group of staff in a meeting, or if they overheard a question in a corridor.  Get them to use this response as the basis for what they can post.  Take the time to thank people for their efforts or ideas directly – it demonstrates leaders are listening and builds the psychological safety for people to speak up.

The power in communities

Communities are geared to support their members. There is an unwritten social contract between members based on the common interest they share. This sense of connection and support is important, narrowing the emotional distance even when working remotely.  Trust is the currency of these communities, so listen to what is being said and be present. Remember that in many cases communities will mobilise to protect themselves.  If this mobilisation is supported with active leadership then we can create resilience in our people instead of reliance.

Simon Terry, creator of the Collaboration Value Maturity Model and collaboration thought leader draws similar conclusions in his recent article Three Key Roles For Yammer A Crisis

Matt Dodd – Digital Workplace Consultant – Engage Squared

“Matt changes the way people work, create and connect through human-centered approaches to culture, leadership and digital services.
He combines design, empathy and systems thinking to deliver value to individuals and organisations.
Since 2004, he’s been working with large organisations delivering digital-based change and workplaces. ”

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