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Communications, COVID 19 and the Not for Profit CEO

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Before this week, I used to say the role of the CEO in the Australian disability or aged care sector would challenge the skills of any CEO, regardless of their prior commercial experience.

This week, a challenging role became infinitely more complex, given the vulnerability of the aged and people with disabilities to COVID-19.

In this time of unprecedented stress and uncertainty, clear stakeholder communication is needed more than ever. I have pulled together below a personal list of my top 5 tips for the servant leader CEO. I hope it helps.

  1. Now is the time to be on the front foot. Identify your key internal and external stakeholders and communicate more frequently not less. The last thing you want is a ‘narrative vacuum’. (In the absence of clear communication, people make up their own meaning and stress builds.) Your customers and staff come first. If at all possible, update information with your teams on a daily basis with a summary of facts or ‘CEO Update’. If you have not already cancelled your face to face events and written to all your stakeholders about the steps you are taking to prioritise their health (and where they can find further trusted factual information) then this piece of communication needs to go ASAP.

  2. Now is the time to be personal. Face to face communication builds trust. If you can’t be face to face in reality, achieve it virtually. Many people are now working from home, possibly for the first time in their lives and it may feel strange and stressful. If you can’t do an online video, then do a zoom webinar, it’s easier than Skype and more user friendly. The communication channels you use need to be easy to access and as personal as possible. Pick up the phone and speak to people. Ask them how they’re going. Surprise them with informal, personal and immediate channels rather than texts and emails. This is about keeping people connected and feeling supported. It’s about supporting the whole person, not just the person they are to your business, be it employee, partner or customer.

  3. Now is the time to be transparent. If you don’t have all the answers then say so, but add that you will update people as the situation develops. This is about being the leader that your employees and customers can trust. Cultures are built on trust. Stressed customers rely on trusted experts. Stressed employees want to work for someone they can trust and who will, in turn trust them. Be that person.

  4. Now is the time to watch your body language. Recognise how you are feeling before you communicate and don’t transfer your stress without realising it. Don’t stomp down the corridors or lose your cool. Your stress will only send ripples out around to whoever is left in the office. Likewise, we’ve all seen politicians squirming uncomfortably in their seats and looking sideways. Now is the time to speak slowly, calmly and without fear. Be the leader you would want to work for. It’s not what you say that matters most, it’s HOW you say it.

  5. Now is the time to share stories of outstanding service and random acts of ‘going way beyond’ customer expectations. I work in this sector because the people in it inspire me. They do things I couldn’t possibly do. All your team will be feeling an additional stress load. We hunger for good news stories; to feel inspired. So your primary role as leader is to share the vision of a brighter future where COVID -19 is behind us. Convince your teams that you believe in them. That you know they are capable of extraordinary things and you also know that your organisation will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before.

First and foremost, this sector needs to collaborate. If you have great communication materials or tips, please share them, so that as a sector, we can support each other.


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