Our Upside Down World and the New Normal

It is an understatement to say a lot has changed in the past five or six weeks. The majority of us living in the U.S. and countries around the world have learned to “shelter in place” or stay home. We’ve become accustomed to words like “quarantine” and “work from home”. Digital schooling is the norm as is wearing face masks. We’re also kept constantly updated on the number of people who have contracted and died from COVID-19. And the U.S. unemployment numbers have skyrocketed. It’s like the world turned upside down overnight.

There is also a good deal of confusion. Confusion about how the virus is spread and how to respond to it. Governors are challenging the President; the President is criticizing governors. Strong leaders have emerged and the light has been shone on those that could use refresher courses. The economy has more than a blackeye – it looks like the loser of a brutal battle.

For many communicators and business leaders, traditional media outreach, internal communications and human resource activities or messaging have been radically altered. Crisis communications and keeping employees, customers and investors informed of the company’s response to the health crisis is now one of the top jobs in any organization.

Just as any government or business leader is thinking both about what is happening today and what happens after we come out of this crisis, so too must communicators think about what the New Normal looks like for our careers and the companies/ organizations we work for.

Planning for the New Normal

There have been many comparisons made between COVID-19 and the September 11 attacks in New York in 2001. As someone whose life was forever changed by the events of that day, I know very well the concept of “before” and “after” and that there is no going back to what life was like on September 10.

Think about it. Even if you weren’t specifically impacted by the terrorist attacks, you were impacted by the changes to American everyday existence. For months, there were heavily armed police and military showing force in and around the city; flying changed – remember how odd it was to take your shoes off or to make sure you had the tiny bottles of shampoo? And then there was the lasting impact of the wars halfway around the world that still rage on almost two decades later.

What will be the “after” of COVID-19?

Four Guideposts For Tomorrow’s Communications … Whenever Tomorrow Is

Is the concept of business as usual actually dead?

Earlier this week, I used that term on a conference call. I was referring to keeping non-COVID-19 communications activities going while the majority of the communications team was focused on COVID-19 crisis communications. I was met with dead silence from everyone on the line. I guess no one else was thinking about the other things that had been so important just a few weeks before.

While not an approved roadmap, here are four concepts that can help in the transition to the New Normal:

Situational Awareness. There is no way that each of your employees will come back from this health crisis unscathed. Inevitably, someone you know will have had to face the death of someone from this virus. And just like many employees knew someone or were impacted directly by September 11, people will be forever different. From my experience, I would recommend:

  • Acknowledging the loss
  • Understanding if that person doesn’t come back to work for a while – or ever
  • Respecting their need for privacy or their need to talk … but don’t push the latter
  • Providing meaningful work

And most of all, make sure that internal corporate messaging doesn’t skip over the events of the past few weeks – it’s not all rainbows and unicorns because we’re out of quarantine.

Sense of purpose. One of the reasons I mentioned business as usual during that call was because I was thinking about the people on the communications team that were not directly involved in crisis communications. Other activities are still going on. Make sure that those employees know that what they are doing is important, even if it isn’t critical for business continuity. When the New Normal starts, some of what these folks are working on now might be the springboard for your new communications program.

Authenticity. When the New Normal starts it is not the end to human decency. This crisis brought humanity together while being apart. Strange but true. People are connected even if they are staying 6 feet apart, wearing masks and washing their hands raw. Companies and brands have advertised compassion and togetherness. This feeling/emotion/message point needs to be woven into the new storyline of every business. People – whether they are your employees, customers or investors – won’t stand for anything else.

Acceptance. Not too many leadership teams had time to debate working from home before everyone was assigned to it. Despite all of the new technology, some leaders and managers don’t like the idea of not actually seeing their team members attached to their desks from 9 to 5. Not too many managers were trained in how to lead diverse, virtual teams before they were thrown into it. Through the bumps and bruises, ups and down, for the most part companies have made this work. And from everything the leaders and medical professionals are saying, working from home is likely the norm in the New Normal. While we might be able to go to corporate buildings again, the need to be socially distant will remain for some time. How long? I recently heard until 2022. So, it’s likely not going away any time soon. Accept the technology. Accept that the concept of work/life balance is forever gone and accept that the 9 to 5 workday is no longer going to be a reality for many, many people.

While the reboot of the economy is desperately needed, it’s extremely important to keep in mind that the economy is built by people, by the humans who have been forever changed by this new invisible enemy. Making money and meeting investor demands is a real issue that will shape the New Normal, but maybe we’ve learned as a human race that the health (mental and physical) of the working people are a real issue too.


What’s the New Normal going to be like for your company? Have you and your team started to think about priorities and coming back to that beloved (or hated) communications plan that was thrown out the window before the end of the first quarter of 2020?

Note: This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn.

It’s Not ‘One and Done’ for Communicators


Have you ever been working on a program, campaign or project of any sort that requires you to engage employees, stakeholders or leaders? It’s likely that this effort has taken time – planning, drafting, editing, approvals – but now you’re ready to go. You hit send on the first email or host the first town hall or post the latest video online – and then nothing. No likes, comments, feedback and no one is taking the action you wanted them to do. Your manager is asking for metrics, results and feedback. You’re scratching your head about why it’s not doing what you planned it to do. What happened?

There can be many answers to why the initial communication did not get traction. Did you do enough research about the audience? Is the call to action clear enough? Is it something that people can actually understand? Before you throw in the towel and call the effort a failure, stop for a minute and think about it this way – you didn’t see immediate success because you put all of your high expectations on that one tactic.

Someone once said that you need to tell people something seven times in seven different ways for it to click. And like it or not, it does apply to our work as communicators.

That’s why any communication needs a plan with multiple, different activities to reach the audience and convince them to take the action that you want.

Getting discouraged is not an option. Keep pushing the message out in a variety of ways. Evaluate the success of each method and adjust your plan as needed. Eventually, it will be heard.

Words Matter

“I don’t have time for you.”

This phrase sends the little hairs on the back of my neck into the scared straight position. It conjures up some rather uncomfortable business situations.

The first time I heard this was when I went to get my boss’ attention about a potential issue arising with one of my internal clients at a major corporation. I don’t remember what the exact issue was, but I do recall that I felt like I needed guidance on how to resolve the problem and that I needed to let my boss know before the sh*t hit the fan.

I walked to her office, knocked on the door and said something like “I need to talk to you.”

I probably should have recognized her “hair on fire” appearance but she was always stressed out (that’s an entirely different post) and often looked like she was a deer in headlights.

She stood up from her seat behind the desk and looked at me. “I do not have time for you. Figure it out yourself,” she said and then she brushed passed me obviously going to put out a fire somewhere else.

I stood there, shell-shocked.

My career was built on me “figuring it out” so that didn’t bother me as much as the first part of that statement. She was the boss, the manager, the senior person to whom I reported. Surely, she was supposed to have time for me, right?

I somehow figured out the solution to my dilemma and went on with my day and career. She never did ask me what the problem was, and she didn’t last long in the role.

I went several years between “I don’t have time for you” situations. The latest was different in both the problem and the way the leader approached me.

The challenge was getting permissions for access to a client’s network (my access was in danger of getting locked as the client extended my contract). I tried all of the sources I could reach to ask about the process and went to the leader asking for his advice.

Again, I probably should have been aware that there was a lot going on for this leader as the team prepped for a big leadership meeting. However, in order for me to help manage the other work so that they could work on the meeting, I needed to have access to the network.

Instead of the “hair on fire” situation, this leader said matter-of-factly: “I simply do not have the time for this right now.”

I braced myself for the “figure it out” statement to follow but it didn’t.

Instead the leader told me to continue working and once the meeting was over he would address the network access internally. No fireworks, no drama. Just leadership.

As leaders of people we’re often challenged by managing our own work, the needs of the level above us, and the people who report to us. It’s important to remember that seemingly simple interactions between leaders and employees can make lasting impressions on those employees.

I rationalized that the first leader was under pressure and I should have known that. The truth is, no one should have to play mind reader. Simple, straight forward communications would have made this situation so much better.

Sometimes we all fall into the trap of thinking that good communication is only the “thing” we produce and distribute to various stakeholder groups. In reality, the success of any team is based on its ability to communicate. For example, the first situation could have been so much different if the leader had stopped and said something like “I can’t talk to you right now. Talk to XX and see if you can come up with a solution. I’ll be back in an hour and we can discuss at that time.” Or even, “I need you to take control of the situation and figure it out while I handle x,y,z.”

Being good communicators – not just in writing but person-to-person – requires time. We need to be ready to dedicate whatever is necessary to doing it right and moving ourselves and our teams forward. I personally am working on banishing the phrase “I don’t have time” from my vocabulary.

5 Reasons Why You Need A Communications Plan

Do you have a communications plan for your business?

You should.


Without a plan, how do you know when you’ve reached your goal or desired outcome? How do you know if you were successful?

The concept of planning immediately creates anxiety in some leaders because they fear the time commitment or being locked into certain activities or simply because they believe communications planning and execution is someone else’s job. I don’t care if you’re a go-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person or a methodical rules-follower. If you need to go from point A to point B, you need some sort of guide to get there.

Here are five reasons why I encourage you to embrace the action of developing (and executing) a communications plan:

1. It provides structure.

2. It requires you stop and think about the impact whatever you are going to do has on each of your stakeholder groups (employees, customers, media, investor, etc.)

3. It eliminates the “Wild, Wild, West” scenario of everyone doing everything – or worse, no one doing anything – to convey important information.

4. It elevates communications professionals from order takers (you’ve probably heard phrases like this: “we need a press release”, “I want a video”, “employees are not doing what we want”, “why is everyone leaving?”) to strategists.

5. It makes defining success less willy-nilly because the results are measured against the goals outlined in the plan.

Putting together a communications plan does not need to be difficult. Just remember the 5 Ws and 1 H (who, what, where, why, when and how). Now go to your keyboard or notebook and start planning!

What’s the Cause Behind the Cause?

Literacy – the ability to read, write and speak English – has been a passion of mine since 2012 when I took a course with the Literacy Volunteers of Monmouth County. I was training to be a tutor because I couldn’t understand a world where someone could not enjoy a good book. Over the years, I learned that there is much more to being literate.

It’s not just about getting lost in a good novel.

It’s about being able to read a job application or street sign.

It’s about being able to take your child or parent to the hospital and explain what’s wrong with them.

It’s about being able to pay bills because you understand what’s happening with your money.

It’s about being able to do what most of us take for granted.

My misunderstanding of being literate is not just my mistake – many people don’t understand the scope of the issue in the United States. For example, it’s not just immigrants that have the challenge of low-literacy; it’s many people born in America who made it through school without being able to read or write. Read Kim Davis’ story.

Why am I telling you this story and introducing you to Kim?

Because it is very simple to say that you’re a supporter of some cause or organization but to really understand the reason why that organization exists is far more challenging. We need to look beyond what is right in front of us and dig deeper to come to a true understanding of what we’re advocating with a check, a walk or run, or donating our time in some other way.

It’s not easy but it is worth it.

What cause are you passionate about? Do you challenge yourself, family, friends, co-workers to find something to engage their heart and minds?