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Crisis Communication: 3 things business leaders can learn from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern  

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is being praised around the world for her communication to the public in response to the COVID-19 crisis. How can these learnings be applied to the workplace?

April 27, 2020
By
Angelique Parungao

As political leaders around the world work to navigate the ongoing spread of the global coronavirus pandemic, we are seeing various communication styles and strategies emerge as a response. One that has particularly stood out in recent weeks is that of New Zealand’s current prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who has been lauded due to her effective way of connecting with the island nation. 

Ardern introduced strict social restrictions very early in the onset of the pandemic, and since then has effectively implemented measures to test, trace, and isolate those who are showing signs of the virus. But what truly stands out is how she is communicating with her country—particularly using emotion to connect and resonate with the people. In turn, she has received 80% public approval, according to a survey conducted by New Zealand market research agency Colmar Brunton, showing the country's high level of trust and confidence in her. In the same poll, they also found nine in 10 New Zealanders are doing what the government tells them to do to slow down the spread of the virus. 

How can business leaders around the world learn from Ardern’s communication techniques and apply them to emulate in their own organizations? Let’s take a look.

Use an inclusive and familiar communication tool 

One of the effective ways Ardern has been communicating with the country is through tools that are accessible to everyone: Facebook Live chats. Through this channel, she has been streaming live Q&As where she can address the nation’s concerns in real time and allow audience participation through the comment section. With 60% of New Zealand’s population being active Facebook users, this is clearly a familiar platform that citizens are already using in their day to day life and would feel familiar to them. 

As a business leader, it is essential to reach out to everyone in your organization in a similar way — through tools that are already available and familiar to them. If you do not already have a comprehensive communication tool rolled out, look for one that has intuitive features that resemble that of social media or day-to-day consumer apps your employees are likely already using. Functionalities for company-wide announcements, polls and surveys and video calls are key features to look for, all of which will help create a direct line of communication from you to all your employees. 

Humanize your communication method

Ardern’s leadership style has been described as empathic while remaining clear and concise with what she wants to address. She has been seen hosting her Facebook Live chats in casual home attire, minimal make up, and speaking in casual, digestible language — though being sure to stay on topic and remain informative. This has helped her be much more approachable and relatable to New Zealanders, equalizing them all in the conversation as she stands with them during a time of crisis. 

Now more than ever, with increasing anxiety over the current situation, business leaders need to connect with employees on a more emotional level, and promote trust and reassurance. At such times, it’s crucial that employee wellbeing is not neglected over business survival and continuity — in fact, those who respond empathetically to their workforce now are more likely to boost loyalty, productivity and brand image for people within and outside of the organization for years to come. Consider opening up channels for around-the-clock feedback, where employees can voice their concerns and have them addressed promptly. In doing so, you can together approach the situation as an ongoing conversation within the organization, rather than a one-way instruction of how employees are to feel and behave during this time. 

Be transparent during a crisis

When Ardern announced the “most decisive and strongest lockdown in the world” last March, she ensured everyone knew just how greatly the stringent measures will help them flatten the curve. By doing so, the nation understood the rationale behind the lockdown, and adhered positively in accordance to the restrictions. In fact, the country has now moved to a lower level of lockdown where schools are looking to reopen and people are allowed to visit their close families outside of their household. 

As a leader, being open and transparent to your teams helps them feel more informed about the situation at hand and also more reassured. In a time of uncertainty, false information and rumors that spread within the workforce only further intensify the anxiety around the situation. Through transparent updates, you can ease these worries by instantly and consistently sharing information to staff relating business changes, virus-related news, policy introductions and more directly from the management team. Similarly, a centralized repository of information, where they can access documents and files that will help them understand your strategies and decisions, is highly effective in making sure the right information is circulated. After all, two-way, open communication is the key to ensuring the success of policies, be it a nation of five million people or a company with 500 employees. 

Image credit: Governor-General of New Zealand / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)

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