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 delegate this!
Second, in your daily communication, be sure to answer questions people might have.
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 thinking.
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 reality.
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.