Business objectives are met because people-priority ensures success. Where people are valued, have a voice, enjoy trusting and adult relationships with all colleagues, people can be expected to do more without compulsion. We can expect them to stay in the business longer and develop and hone skills that might be overlooked in other organization.

Healthy communication is at the heart of all trusting relationships both internally, but with all stake-holders, including the supply-chain.

Communication, an introduction

Until now, most executives have been fire-fighting to manage necessary changes for productive operations. In the New Normal, there are still episodes of fire-fighting, but we executives must resist the habit of firefighting unless absolutely necessary. Yes, we can learn from mistakes made in firefighting, but if we are strategic, we make fewer of them! The strategic approach to communications is important when planning smooth operations and contingency-planning for disruptive events.

More on this Topic

Good communication is underpinned by these two great rules:

  1. Always make sure to under-promise and over-deliver
  2. Add contingency and follow-up without fail.

Expectations must be met or exceeded at all times. When we set an expectation whether it be a delivery of contact-point, we must meet or exceed the expectations we set. If in doubt, always add contingency and express the later date and time rather than let someone, and some company, down.

Who is Communication for?

Communication has different audiences including these stakeholders:

  • Shareholders
  • Company Board Members
  • Senior Management Team
  • Middle Managers
  • Supervisors
  • Operatives
  • Union Management where present
  • Immediate Suppliers (and possibly sub-suppliers, where critical)
  • Customers
  • Contractors, advisors, outsourced services, certificating and professional bodies
  • Media (possibly outsourced to a PR agency).

Communications During a New or Repeat Closure and During Start-up

You already know how to manage or fire-fight through time-critical periods, for example:

  1. Missing technical experts
  2. Customer changes to volume or the specification of orders
  3. Machine failure
  4. Weather events.

Here we are in a situation where the whole of your supply-chain and all stake-holders already know that there are threats to your ability to maintain the business, sustain the cash-flow and consolidate supply-chain relationships beyond the crisis. This calls for more strategic actions from you.

More on this Topic

The key elements of communication will include this grounding principle:

Consider what it is like to be that stakeholder, customer, supplier and work out specifically what is concerning to them. Having listed these concerns down, your communication aim is to create a change in them from anxiety to calm; be empathetic; answer the concerns directly and leave nothing to their imagination.

This takes resolve. The effectiveness of this principled approach is obvious. When you decide what YOU want to tell stakeholders, you will leave out essentials and likely not step-up to the trickier communications, due to fear. But your fear will engender anxiety and potential distrust in your stakeholder; we must face-up to the challenges to avoid that and to protect our stakeholder relationships after the crisis is over.

Here are some of the issues that staff will be worried about:

  • How solid is our order book as we are running at maybe 90% already?
  • What should I do to protect my family (some of my colleagues are already sleeping in the garage/den)?
  • Will there be lay-offs?
  • How and where will we eat to stay safe?
  • The virus will be viable on steel – what are we doing between shifts to sanitize?
  • What are we doing to protect us from cart handles and shared tools?
  • How much distance is safe?
  • Will you be testing us and if so, when?

Below are links to example-resources. Note that the Town-Hall approach to staff has been neglected; when people must be self-distancing, this option may not be available. Note also, that these resources will refer to new rôles for support, communication and infection-control issues; you will want to define these for your organization and others in the supply-chain.

Add contingency-time to any time-line you give for follow-up; remember, under-promise, over-deliver; this adage is more important right now than ever before.

Example communication to customer  aim10010

Example communication to supervisors  aim10011

Example communication to operatives  aim10012

Communications at Shutdown Tipping Point

Use the same grounding principle, above, to consider each set of stakeholders in any communication; answer all their perceived concerns. As you develop your communication, pick one or two trusted individuals that will be affected by the shutdown and seek their feedback. Use their feedback to advise and adapt your messaging accordingly. Remember, under-promise and over-deliver.

More on this Topic

Here are some of the issues that staff will be worried about:

  • How long will I be paid, if at all and will it be all my basic pay or a percentage?
  • How long do you commit to pay me?
  • Will you help me apply for social security?
  • Will you loan me any shortfall caused by delays?
  • What should I do to protect my family (some of my colleagues are already sleeping in the garage/den)?
  • What should I do for my pay while I am at home?
  • When will we come back to work?
  • Are all our orders solid and if not, are they coming back?
  • Will there be lay-offs?

Example communication to customer  aim10015

Example communication to supplier  aim 10016

Example communication to supervisors  aim10017

Example communication to operatives  aim10018

Communications When Planning to Start-up Again

You will have already an Infection Control Plan (possibly as part of your Value Stream Mapping Infection, VSMI, investigation). This will likely involve several changes in work-culture including a change in shifts, the maximum number of people in each working area (including transit folk with fork-trucks, carts, inspections and maintenance etc.), as well as toilet area and any rest/catering facilities. You will also have decided on how people will clock-in and report while ‘distancing’ and whether you will have temperature checks or oxygen saturation measurements, require the wearing of masks before entering the facility and how you manage any shift-changes differently.

More on this Topic

Here are some of the concerns that staff will be fretting about:

  • I do not have a car and come in with Dirk, can you keep us on the same shifts?
  • Will I have to wear a mask and will you provide and ship to my home?
  • Will I have to keep my eyes protected?
  • How do I keep my family safe when I come home?
  • What happens if I have a temperature when I get to work?
  • Can I get an advance on my pay?

Example communication to customer  aim10021

Example communication to supplier  aim 10022

Example communication to supervisors  aim10023

Example communication to operatives  aim10024

Communication: Virtual Meetings

For office staff, virtual meetings from home (and elsewhere) have been proven, finally to work. In fact, there are other advantages beyond not having to commute and being able to balance life and work more effectively and leading to increased daily working-time, as reported earlier.

More on this Topic

Actual meetings, even at the shop-floor level (with a large volume of air), are likely to be hazardous. As we know, speaking and especially loud speaking (and shouting) eject a much bigger volume of exhaled air and an infected person will be shedding both small droplets (that easily bi-pass or are not filtered by conventional surgical masks) as well as larger droplets that contain higher virus loads. Distancing may be difficult because of noise, though noise-attenuating ear-defenders will vastly improve the hearing of speech in noisy areas. Smaller, distanced, meeting between three or four people may still take place on the shop-floor though technology systems that allow sharing of ideas live could replace the need for many such meetings.

An advantage of virtual meetings is being able to look into the eyes and face of a virtual speaker with total attention, something that might be intimidating or strange in a real meeting. The extra information we can get looking directly into someone’s eyes offsets some of the disadvantages due to video quality issues that sometimes arise.

Moving from face-to-face meeting to virtual also allows us to change the dynamics of a regular, boring corporate meeting run by a bad facilitator. The dynamics are largely new to these people and a great opportunity for others to show leadership and participate, especially if using more app features.We can get more effective in other ways too. Massive waste occurs when people have on-the-hour starts and no fixed maximum period for ending; the more people in the ‘room’, the worse the waste. Now is a good time to do better. We propose ‘Agenda Frames’ (McLeod[1]):

[1] McLeod, A. Self-coaching Leadership, Simple Steps from Manager to Leader, Wiley & Sons, 2007.