Best Practices


Communicating in a Crisis

In a relatively short period of time, the Covid-19 situation has become a worldwide crisis and a business crisis, regardless of the industry in which you operate. This is a time for leaders to step up and be visible to their employees, customers and other constituencies.

One leader I have been noticing is the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, whose news conferences I find to be great models of how to communicate in a crisis. I suggest you watch some of his news conferences, in particular one he did on March 24, from which I am taking some tips and offering them to you.

Show empathy. Governor Cuomo does an exceptional job of showing empathy. You can feel it is heartfelt and real. The empathy is not only for the general public but also gets very specific in that he expresses empathy for the people at the forefront of fighting the virus: healthcare workers and countless others who are risking their lives by coming to work and doing their critical jobs.

You may feel that as a leader you are not an expert at showing empathy, even if you feel it in your heart. I suggest you try doing it, especially through taking note of individual employee stories that you may encounter in your leadership interactions. If you are not hearing such employee stories, then you are not getting out enough! Take the opportunity to talk to people (in a safe manner of course) and listen to what they may be going through and their concerns about the current situation and the future. This listening will better equip you to communicate empathetically with your entire organization. Be sure to mention specific acts of courage and service as appropriate.

Be honest. Governor Cuomo does not try to sugarcoat the situation. He uses statistics to describe the number of cases and deaths and what the trajectory in other countries tells us about what may be coming. However, he manages to do it in a matter-of-fact way that is not scary but rather gives residents a set of potential expectations about the near future. 

In times of crisis, it is incredibly important to be honest and maintain credibility with all of your stakeholders. Your employees want some information about the company’s prospects for the future and their jobs. Your customers want to understand your supply situation and the status of your plant operations. Your owners or board of directors want to understand the current state of your business and operations and how you intend to weather the storm. It may be helpful to model a few different scenarios.

Be strong. This is a time to show strength. Of course you may feel fearful, as does everyone to some degree. However, you need to be in command and show that you are. Times like this are why you became a leader. Rise to the occasion.

Be clear and consistent. Governor Cuomo is remarkably clear in his communications. For example, he uses a chart to show the practical issue of a shortage of personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, etc.) and medical equipment (hospital beds, ventilators) in New York. Using the same chart on a regular basis allows him to show progress toward a goal as well as continue to highlight a gap and ask for help to fill it. 

I do think it is effective to use a few charts or tables to focus on critical statistics in your business. You may be asking staff to increase activity in one area and reduce it in another. You may be focusing on inventory of critical products or the performance of certain services. A chart or table can be an effective way to visually focus on the critical area, but be careful not to make your crisis communications into a long or detailed Powerpoint presentation. In times of crisis, data is never going to fully satisfy people as they are in a heightened emotional state.

Keep your eyes on the prize. Governor Cuomo closed his March 24 press conference with a very effective plea to the public to maintain their social distancing and other health practices to reduce spread. He did this by expressing how these directives are key to protecting the elderly and the vulnerable people in your lives. He has a simple slogan on his visual charts: “Stay home. Stop the spread. Save lives.”

In your business, the short-term prize is the health of your employees and the longer term prize is the health of the enterprise. Keep these top of mind. Provide people a vision of a future that is realistic and optimistic to the extent that you can while still being honest.

Unite people. In order to weather a crisis, it is crucial to effectively utilize the skills and energy of all employees and stakeholders. It can be helpful to harken to another time in which your business effectively weathered a crisis and how you did it as a team. 

Governor Cuomo does this effectively by discussing how New York emerged triumphant after 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy by taking advantage of some homegrown personal characteristics such as being smart, resilient and caring. You may want to focus on the particular characteristics of your business and your people that will allow you to emerge victorious from this crisis. 

Some business characteristics you may want to remind people about are having a committed and skilled workforce, a strong reputation, important and valued products, a strong competitive position and support from your owners or board. Some aspects of your workforce and culture you may want to note are resilience, innovation, commitment, close personal connections and a “can do” attitude. 

These are difficult times for all of us. We are all in this together. We will get through it! 

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Email her at or phone (908) 400-5210.

Related Topics

Best Practices    Business    Management    Market Topics