In this blog post we will examine the role of agency leadership in policy making “on the fly.” We will look at four key areas where communication leadership can make a difference: setting up a team, communicating with employees, clients, and stakeholders, and working with communities.
This week’s wellness suggestion is to “update policies and be advocates for policy changes.” Thank you to the Alberta helping professional who suggested that excellent strategy. Indeed, keeping policy up to date is what leaders do when faced with economic, social, or health crises. It is also a great approach to #wellness leadership because, as Paul Argenti points out, leaders “have a special role in reducing employee anxiety.” That role often requires coming up with policy “on the fly.”
Among the iconic images of COVID-19, the flattened curve (representing a drawn-out but less lethal pandemic) is one of the most compelling. It represents a strategy that by intervening with social distancing and other protective measures, the capacity of our health system remains strong. Yet, even though the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services provide policy guidance, there are always care decisions to be made and communicated by agency policy leaders.
Agency policy leaders implement more than what’s written in government policy directives. While roles, responsibilities, and resources are supposed to be spelled out before a health crisis, during a health crisis leaders are often forced to come up with policy on the fly.
What you say now can affect travel plans, containment measures, and mitigation: all policies that, right now as cases and deaths rise, people want you to get right.
Leadership Communication and The Curve
If we look at the curve we are trying to flatten, we can see that the elements at play parallel the kinds of challenges facing agency leaders.
See where it says “Healthcare System Capacity?” One way to look at this image is to see your agency capacity in the same role as the healthcare system capacity (in this case, Alberta Health Services, city hospitals, clinics, and so on.) Your policy interventions, communicated to your agency and sector partners and clients, help maintain operating capacity.
The Role of Agency Leadership Communication
We think of #wellnessleadership as modeled by national leaders, but agency leaders also play a role. Local leadership is often the first point of contact. As employees, clients, and community stakeholders work through national and provincial guidelines, questions will come up. In fact, a resource from Canada Life suggests a few areas where local leadership can fill the information gap.
- Threats to the premises or individuals.
- Conflict in the workplace that may include violence, harassment or bullying.
- Workplace disruption related to problematic substance use.
- Business-related issues including hostile takeovers, closures, bankruptcy, etc.
The box below contains tips for being a good communicator in a crisis. Remember, much of the communication you do during this time will be to reassure, maintain connections, show responsibility, and, if you are lucky, flatten the curve of anxiety that underlies everything.
Guidelines for Communication Leadership
Everybody has their own style of communication that fits their leadership role. You should follow the three rules of effective risk communication–communicate often, establish trust through candor, and centralize (one message: many voices.) If you are new to digital communication, check out Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy’s 10 Digital Miscommunications — and How to Avoid Them.
Got your chops ready for digital communication, all set up with a camera and coffee mug: Let’s start flying! Here are some tips for communicating during the coronavirus crisis. These tips are adapted from Communicating Through the Coronavirus, by Paul A. Argenti.
Don’t Communicate Alone
We hear this phrase so often today, “We’re in this together!” Well, make this real by assembling, probably using computers, a communication team. They may not be standing behind you like they do on TV, but others play a role in what you say. The payoff is a greater chance of consistency in messaging. I have a communication team for this blog. I may not hear from them all the time, but I know they are there and I can reach them “on the fly.” Check out our post on continuity planning to see how you can make you on the fly team part of your ongoing survival plan.
Communicate with Employees, Clients, and Shareholders
Regular messages from agency leaders can go a long way toward demystifying the broad directives from GOA or Health Canada. Inevitably employees and clients will have questions about how, when, and by whom. Your guidance at these key points can help these audiences stay engaged and feel safe. But we all know that this kind of communication planning needs to look at basic messaging strategies.
The following communication grid may prove helpful for you and your team as you work through your daily messaging options.
Communication with Communities
No agency exists in a vacuum. Argenti suggests using this time for some proactive community support. In public communication, strive for messages showing cooperation with community support groups. He suggests these measures:
- Providing resources such as cleaning supplies or food for those in quarantine.
- Providing information to the local media to help to calm the communities down while also enhancing your organization’s credibility.
- Providing transparency about what is happening within the company rather than going radio silent.
Policy communication doesn’t go away during a crisis, such as the Coronavirus pandemic. In the hands of savvy nonprofit sector leaders, it can become a key component in your strategy to strengthen your employee engagement, build communication team work, reassure clients and stakeholders, and reinforce community partnerships. With a little planning most leaders can sharpen their communication skills and deliver messages “on the fly.”
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Next week’s topic is “Understanding stress triggers” which, you may be surprised to know, is about #understandingstressors. See you then.
For more information about wellness in Alberta, visit the Healthy Workplaces Project site.
The #WellnessLinksBlog would like to thank our Advisory Committee members: