Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! (Leading your Startup through CRISIS Step #1)
Communicate, communicate, communicate. That is the first step in leading your startup through crisis
Many of us are facing challenging times going through this crisis. We will talk
about the steps you can take to lead your startup through
CRISIS with maximum chances of
survival and success. This first step is all about communication.
Now, many startup founders find it counterintuitive to start communicating right
away when, clearly, they are in over their heads. They don’t quite know what to
do. They have to find a lot of time for analysis.
And yet it is so important, when the whole world around us is tumbling down,
when we’re not quite sure what’s happening, that people hear from their leaders.
Ninety seconds/day is enough
Therefore, it is crucial to be visible every day. So what does that mean, being
visible every day? Well, literally that. Communicate with your teams every day
and do it in a very short way. I actually recommend video; and a video of about
90 seconds is more than enough.
Beats email, slack, blogs, voice
It is so important for people to actually be able to see and hear their leader
rather than just reading another little write up in an email. So don’t just send
out daily emails. Actually take the time to record a quick video.
Not staged–use loom or zoom
But here’s the deal, it does not have to be staged. In fact, the more authentic
the better. So I recommend you do not do any staging like here. No, you’re just
recording at your desk. Use an app called Loom or set up a meeting with yourself
in Zoom. So just record as you are in your home office. And especially in these
times when we cannot actually be in the office together. It’ll make people
really feel connected.
CEOs–Do not delegate
If you’re the CEO and if you’re reading this, it is important that they actually
hear from you, the CEO daily. Don’t delegate this to your head of HR, your head
of marketing. These are all very important people and may actually help you
write that content in the background, if you want anything written. But it is
important that they hear from the top leader in the business. So CEOs, do not
Second, in your daily communication, be sure to answer questions people might
Central Q&A Channel
First of all, set up a channel. Many companies use Slack, but it can be a Google
doc or something else where you encourage people to ask their questions. In the
beginning, typically you will get a lot of questions and then it quickly dies
down. But keep encouraging activity in these questions.
And more importantly, when questions come in through other channels, then
redirect them into that joint channel, joined Google doc where all the questions
can be collated together in a Frequently Asked Questions document.
Answer what you can
Now you don’t necessarily have to provide the answers in the document right
away. Actually providing some ongoing answers is a great way to fill up your
daily videos, that we just discussed. So it also allows you to give a more
authentic answer than a nicely written, well-formulated answer from, let’s say,
your HR department.
Make people feel heard
It is less important that you provide a specific answer to each question and
more that people feel heard. And so that you repeat the question that you saw
and try to deal with it as authentically as possible. It’s perfectly fine to say
that you don’t know. We’ll get to that in the next point.
Try to be Clear
But do try to be clear and avoid waffle. Don’t try to be too fake or too
political in your answers. What people want from your answers is primarily
reassurance. That doesn’t need, that does not mean that they need to hear a
detailed answer. They just need to hear that you’re on top of it.
We already mentioned, in these circumstances, there’s a lot of things you know,
and there’s a lot of things you don’t know. So it’s perfectly fine to be
completely clear about that.
Admitting you don’t know increases credibility
Actually, it makes people feel more confident if you are strong enough to be
able to admit that there are certain things that you don’t know. Nobody expects
their leaders to know everything. And you can tell from the actions of certain
political leaders in several countries. The ones that claim that they know
everything do not exactly come across as the most trustworthy.
Feigning you know undermines trust
So I would say, first of all, this uncertainty is expected. People expect you to
be uncertain. And to be able to share that. Dare to say “I don’t know”, just be
clear about it. But once you do, then also highlight the factors in your
Explain how to find the answer over time
So for example, when people say or ask “will this crisis last three months?”
Then clearly every one of us would have to say, “I don’t know.” “But here’s some
indicators I’m looking at. For example, China, Korea, we had certain people go
back to work in three weeks. Others would be, when would the reproduction rate
of the virus come down?” Those are questions that we would keep in mind. So we
explain a little bit how we are thinking about work.
Highlight knowledge in your team too
And then finally. Highlight not only your own knowledge, but also the knowledge
that exists in your crisis team. The people you’ve gathered together that are
focusing on answering those questions every day.
Set up from day one
Finally: that crisis team. So first of all, the internal crisis team is really
important. I would set that up from day one, and it typically means CEO,
co-founder or president or whoever the typical number two of the company is. And
you need people like HR, finance, and maybe legal.
Founders + 3-4 Staff
We’re looking primarily at staff functions there. So the more advisory functions
to the CEO. The ones that are not running big departments themselves, but the
ones that have a little bit more time to think things through with the CEO
before they get announced to the bigger management team, and then the deeper
layers of the company.
I do think it is important to meet daily, to be on top of decisions. Another
reason why you do not want people in there that are running big line
departments. Because they’re already very busy with the other meetings. Plus
there is too much chance that certain scenarios will immediately start being
dissipated in the other departments before you’re ready.
Ensure Board Communication
So next to that, of course, you also want to ensure regular Board communication.
I recommend a weekly call for a VC-funded startup just to understand where the
Board is, what the investors are thinking. And how much pressure you face to
update your plans, but also how much support you can possibly expect in
difficult times to come.
Full Mgmt Team still makes big decisions
All of these teams will prepare things, even the Board will give you input, but
of course, ultimately these are not decision-making bodies. The real
decision-making body is and remains the management team or executive team,
however you want to call it, and that team has to sign off on everything.
To summarize: communication. Be visible every day. Do answer the questions. Be
clear about what you know and what you don’t know and set up the necessary
crisis teams so that you can actually start delving really into the issues. I
hope this works.
In the next article we’ll talk about reassessing
To get started right away with bridging the crisis in your startup, go to
crisis. We put together all resources there that we’ve mentioned in
this video: The crisis action plan, a one page crisis bridging plan, other
videos, and more.