Earlier this week, I was invited to join a panel of gaming regulators, strategists and operators at the upcoming ICE North America Digital Conference. The topic for the panel is reopening strategies and the priorities that leaders should be considering.
I could modify one of the dozens of playbooks I created in one of my many former roles and dust if off for these circumstances. Instead, I realized that this scenario is so vastly different. Ranks are thinned out, everyone is overwhemled, and shifts will be staggered. This is not a scenario for a ballroom celebration. It’s a hybrid that looks nothing like the communications plans of my past where lively presentations, gamification, incentives and one-on-one conversations stimulated the masses.
Powerful, Sustainable Change is an “Inside-r” Job
The top priority of every operator should be employee confidence. Committing to safety, instilling confidence and building trust are pillars of your internal communication plan and your re-opening strategy. Employees must feel adequately informed and trained so they can accurately represent your brand to the general public.
The best model I can use to describe my approach to a communications strategy for THIS reopening exercise closely resembles Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where the basic foundation of a safe and secure environment must be met before individuals can aspire to higher levels of activation.
I am oversimplifying here! Using Maslow’s model as the basis for the content, the message on re-engagement is reinforced through a change management methodology, starting with awareness for the need to change, creating a desire to change and be supportive, and building confidence in your plan by training employees in the skills to do so.
This next recommendation may seem obvious, but it’s not consistently practiced because it’s not always practical: inform your employees of your reopening operating plan before the announcement is made public. Objectives must be “translated” for and understood clearly by your employees. To do so also requires that the PR team and individuals responsible for media relations be aligned with your plan. The timing can be subtle, but it’s critical.
Be transparent and direct in describing precisely what an employee can expect and what a consumer can expect. Doing so often requires a highly choreographed dance between the internal teams and external communication practitioners.
A confident, informed employee is your best asset. Nothing good comes of a guest who asks an employee if they are required to wear a mask and the employee says, “I don’t know.” We can no longer say “it’s not a matter of life or death” because it IS. Respect your employees AND control your narrative by bringing them into the planning process as it is taking shape. Doing so also helps you avoid “noise” and the speculative conversations that will fire up on social media—distractions that you certainly don’t need.
Segment your employee population and speak to the specific needs of those segments based on their role in executing the reopening plan. And remember to address the needs of those employees who remain on furlough.
I am an advocate for naming and training change champions to help execute communications. Change happens easiest when its managed carefully and conveyed personally. The most successful companies, regardless of industry, understand that management and communications are inextricably linked and not viewed as separate, unrelated functions. Champions among your front-line supervisory ranks can be extremely effective in segmenting the messages and ensuring the messages are heard, understood and acted upon.
And showing a little vulnerability is fine. We simply don’t know how this will play out. Treat your employees as the valued constituency that they are: trust their reactions, seek to understand why they respond the way they do and be open to continuous improvement.