This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
Organizations need to ride out tough times. They need to adapt to changed conditions, and they need to communicate to all key stakeholders what the changed priorities are during difficult periods. The global financial crisis was clearly one of those times – and now the world is facing a pandemic health crisis.
It is important to get back to fundamentals and to communicate those fundamentals to people who are important to the organization – your key stakeholders.
Review carefully who your key stakeholders are. Are there any new stakeholders you need to communicate with? Have existing stakeholders changed? Do you need to establish new lines of communication with them for mutually better understanding and reassurance? New shareholders, new customers, different customers, and, of course, the most important stakeholders of all – your employees.
You need to convince all those key groups that your organization is well managed and has taken prudent measures to ride out the storm.
Research among 600 companies in Australia in 2007 found that stakeholder relations activity directly specifically at employees as key stakeholders was twice as effective as communication with any other group in creating better financial performance.
Famous management consultant, Peter Drucker, advocated asking 5 crucial questions about organizational fundamentals. (I have bought his book, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, published by Wiley in 2008, which discusses the questions. Great little book – timeless points!) If you can answer all of the questions, or can get upper management to give you the answers, you will be able to communicate better to your stakeholders. In this economic climate they will want to be reassured that your organization knows where it wants to go and how to get there.
From a communication point of view, your job is to convince stakeholders of the merits of your organization’s mission and goals so those people have confidence in the future of your organization. In a subtle way, repeat the main message of reassurance to your various stakeholders.
2. Who is our customer?
At first glance this question may appear to be naïve. However on further reflection, it will be apparent that some customers may have gone out of business and out of your orbit. Other new types of customers may have arrived on the order books, particularly government entities, which are actively entering the marketplace to stimulate economic activity. Don’t forget that employees are your internal customers. Communicate candidly about the compelling reasons for any belt-tightening that may have been initiated, and the importance of new customers or stakeholders.
3. What does the customer value?
Changed times will bring changes in customer priorities. Your people need to talk with customers to identify the new knowledge you need about them and the changed market. This will help you to become aware of emerging market niches. You need to talk with your marketing people and others who are in touch with the marketplace and start communicating about the new priorities, especially to employees. You also need to demonstrate to employees that their jobs are safe and senior managers know what they are doing.
4. What are our results?
During difficult times, you need to communicate frequently and honestly to employees in particular about financial and operating performance. How does your organization define results? Do your results need redefining in view of the recession? If the results are bad, then share information about management plans to turn around the operating results. If you try to hide bad results, employees and other stakeholders will invariably suspect the worst, so level with them, at least enough so they feel you are genuine about your reporting to them. Obviously you don’t share too much commercially sensitive material.
5. What is our plan?
Stakeholders, especially employees, want to know what management is doing to weather the storm and position your organization for a better future when the problem times are over. Share with them the broad outline of your plans – what goals you will strengthen or abandon. That will reassure them that you have sound managers who are preparing to capitalize on future opportunities.
If you are able to provide your main stakeholders internally and externally with this vital information you will be making a significant contribution to your organization’s future.
Source: The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization by Peter Drucker.
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