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In situations of crisis and change, the focus is on people and communication

Situations of crisis and change are often separated in our minds, but the current situation in the world and in Latvia indicates that they can be interconnected. The specific crisis forces us to change the usual approaches, procedures, forms of cooperation and communication. And that means that now more than ever, we as society are expected to act for change. At this moment, different attitudes and behaviors towards an emergency crystallize very well, and it makes us observe both how the government and public institutions deal with communication with the public, and also how business owners and managers at all levels adapt, finding the best way to continue working and communicate with employees.

Based on the classification of changes, these could be called unplanned changes, when managers identify the problem, and the only solution is a change in the company's operation. This article is about what happens to people - managers and teams - during such changes and how to use internal communication in organizations so that managers and teams can adapt to the new situation. Understanding what we are going through In situations of change, similar to crises, people and teams go through a three-level process (Hodges&Gill, 2015). First, we go through the stage where something ends. In this phase, people experience shock, deny the situation, get angry, blame others, feel anxious and uncertain. Now, we could say that we are in this phase. However, since the virus pandemic situation requires rapid adaptation, the challenge for leaders is to move as quickly as possible to the next phase, which is called reorientation. In this phase, the manager must facilitate the development of the new operational approach, where innovations occur, but this phase is accompanied by confusion, impatience and cynicism. However, it is important that the leader can develop vision and purpose for how we will get to the third phase, which is called "new beginning". It is the stage in which the team accepts the situation, solves the problems, everyone unites for a common goal, new energy and the desire to work in the new way arise. However, there must be clarity at the company or organizational level while going through these stages, what goal shall be reached. Even now, I have observed different management approaches: there are managers who order to close the entrance to the organization to cooperation partners, there are managers who feel that this is temporary and still focus on business goals. There is no right or wrong approach, but there must be clarity within the organization about what our goal is and how we will get through this time and whether we will do anything differently than before.

The situation forces us to distance ourselves from each other, but communication must become intense upon this background. The most important messages at the level of corporate communication Internal communication works at several levels, depending on the type of organizational structure, but in all cases the corporate level is valid, where the top manager, the management team and communications manager operates. At this level, the communication must be clear during crisis, the employees shall hear messages that answer the following questions:

  • What is going on?

  • How should we act?

  • What will change? How will this affect me?

  • What is management's vision regarding main goal? How will we achieve it?

The possibilities of management maneuver in state authorities and in the business environment, where every decision to change the type of activity can come at a high price, significantly differ. Therefore, I invite business managers to balance business needs and employee interests, doing so in a clear and open manner of communication. However, it is worth promptly agreeing at the management level on changes in the flow of communication, teamwork, work safety procedures, and other processes that require immediate action and communication to meaningfully manage internal communication currently.

Define the group of leaders step by step who are key communicators in times of uncertainty. Allocate the responsibilities regarding the necessary changes and their communication, as well as agree on mutual coordination, so that communication with employees is as efficient and synchronous as possible. Define who the company's external stakeholders are - which institutions you should contact to know how to respond promptly? What is the main message to customers and partners? This is a two-way process in which institutions and groups of people outside the organization can be both your resource when going through a crisis or the situation of change, and an important audience that looks to you for action. Talk to employees - be honest about how this situation affects the company and what it means for employees. Talking also means listening to what employees are asking. It also means asking management representatives themselves questions and promoting conversation among employees about their feelings, thoughts and possible actions. And if, for security reasons, you close the office of the company, moving to the remote work mode, then it is especially important to stay in touch with employees. Develop the rhythm of communication – In times of crisis and change, communication must be regular, which means agreeing at the corporate level among senior managers how often and what type of information we will provide across the organization's channels. In such a situation, it is important to evaluate which of the communication channels is the most effective in our company - internal network, e-mail, whatsapp group, closed social network accounts of the company or something else. Which one the management will ask employees to check regularly? You may have underdeveloped digital channels until now. Then this is the moment to decide on the most operative solution - SMS to employees' phones, creation of WhatsApp groups, making closed groups in the social network. It is also important to agree on how middle managers will help convey the most important information to their teams and what their role will be in receiving feedback from employees. It must be recognized that the greatest responsibility for the expected team results in a situation of change rests on the shoulders of these managers.


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