What can be learnt from 2020
Written by Sophie Richardson
It’s been a unique year to say the least. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that it has been an incredibly tough one. It seems we’ve been confronted with challenge after challenge, trudging our way slowly through each obstacle just to get to the other side.
This is particularly true for businesses. Many were forced to pivot completely, whether a fitness centre offering classes online or hospitality venues selling takeaway cocktails, just to keep a stream of revenue. Unfortunately for the majority of businesses, despite all of this, it also meant an increased rate of cut-backs and redundancies.
Navigating this as a business owner, as well as keeping in the good books of your employees and customers, is incredibly tricky. Sadly, there’s no perfect solution.
There are multiple strategies that you can implement, however, to maintain a positive brand in difficult times. And while many of us are optimistic for 2021, the year will no doubt give rise to a whole new set of unforeseen challenges. As a business owner, you should begin considering this now.
You won’t always be able to provide answers to every question raised by staff. This isn’t just because of confidentiality concerns. It will also be because, as COVID-19 has reaffirmed, you won’t always have the answers yourself.
This is something business leaders often forget. There is an expectation to appear fearless and assured, confident of the future even in the face of uncertainty. The reality is different. We are all human, we are all vulnerable. If you aren’t sure of an answer, be transparent with staff and explain this, but tell them you are actively seeking one. Honesty, authenticity and being truthful is essential to maintaining a positive brand image.
Like already mentioned, being a business owner and leader means making the tough calls. Often, actually voicing these calls can be really hard, especially when it entails telling an employee what they don’t want to hear. While it won’t seem this way at the time, being direct (but sympathetic) is what is going to maintain your brand image long-term. Prolonging bad news may be easier, but it’s not the solution.
Being direct also means explaining what has led to a certain decision or outcome. If an employee is able to recognise the issue and understand the decision-making process, the result is likely to be far more amicable. This won’t just serve your relationship with them, but with other staff members not directly impacted by the decision. People talk. You don’t want a negative experience with a single employee to impact your entire team.
What you communicate and how is essential to maintaining a positive brand reputation in difficult times. Your key messaging, particularly surrounding the values of your brand and how they apply in difficult times, needs to be the same.
Not only this, but they should be reinforced continuously. Your business should have a designated platform for communication like Teams, Slack or Zoom, where important messages are posted and staff can raise concerns or questions. Diligence in organising this is only going to reflect positively on your brand.
We saw many businesses during lockdown have minimal communication with staff. This led to increased gossip amongst employees as they came up with elaborate reasons for the lacking contact, resulting in frustration and bewilderment with the brand itself. You need to put strategies in place to ensure this does not happen.
Finally, listen to your employees and customers. It’s so easy, but so often overlooked.
Ask around your staff. What are their biggest concerns? What are their most frequently asked questions? What more can you do to help them feel supported in uncertain times?
As well as asking in person, for larger businesses it’s also a good idea to distribute regular surveys. This is going to help you identify key areas of concern, and address them immediately. It will also make staff feel heard and valued, unifying the brand and creating a strong workplace culture - even in difficult times.
Sometimes, to be a business leader and maintain a positive brand image, you don’t need to say anything. You just need to listen, and be empathetic to the needs and concerns of your staff.
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