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.

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!

Tell Me … What Do You Do?

My family and friends often ask me “what do you do all day”? Not that they question if I go to work but more so because they don’t understand what a business communicator does. Business communicators can be writers, strategists, content managers, public relations specialists, marketers or people with skills in each of these areas.

However, unlike, doctors or nurses or plumbers or teachers, there really is no clear definition of what communications professionals do. And television or movie characters don’t help because they just show glamourous people doing something in an office or running around town after a high-powered executive or someone that is just a “fixer” for corporate issues.

Here’s a quick look at how to answer the “What do you do?” question:

1. We are storytellers. Whether it’s for a customer, a reporter, an investor or an employee, we are the craftsman (and woman) building the message, framing the story. We’re the masters of engagement … and wordsmithing.

2. We see the big picture and help leaders see it too. In many situations, communicators have their fingers on the pulse of the organization, industry and community. We know what is working well and what isn’t. We guide the conversations to support the company and leadership mission.

3. We are idea generators and problem solvers. Doing the same things over and over is not only the definition of insanity; it is also boring. Communicators need to find the balance between traditional activities and breaking through the clutter that inundates the industry, the investors and employees. Innovation is critical but so is finding the solution to a multitude of things from bad press to unhappy customers to negative employee morale.

4. We are relationship builders, negotiators and peacemakers. A good healthy dose of emotional intelligence is a good personality characteristic for business communicators. We’re often in the position to influence – the media, the conversation, the direction of an employee program – but that means we must build relationships, understand a wide-range of personalities and how to mediate.

5. We are multitaskers. With more companies looking to do more with less, communications teams are often small which results in a great deal of work done by a few people. The work consists of planning, strategy, writing, editing, coordinating with vendors, reporting on what we’ve accomplished and even ordering food for meetings or making sure microphones work at events.

How do you describe what you do? Do you have insights or ideas about what business communicators do – or should do? Share your thoughts here.

Eight Business Lessons from TV’s Scandal

ABC’s long running drama Scandal ended its seven-season run in April. While a fictional television show focused on the White House and highlighting the tumultuous day-to-day Washington, D.C. dynamics, the show’s storylines and characters can teach us a few things about business especially branding and communications. Here’s how:

1. Always begin with the end in mind. Whether it was Olivia Pope or Cyrus Bean or Jake Ballard making the moves, there was always a plan even when it seemed like there wasn’t a plan. Every action was thought out and well executed. Plans matter.

2. Remain in control. There is always a solution even when you think you hit a brick wall. Take a moment. Then fix the problem or jump at the opportunity.

3. What you say and do matters … and people are listening and watching. Don’t wait for a leak for your messages or actions to trickle out to unintended audiences. Everything you say and do must support your business goals, ethics and mission.

4. Look the part. Brand – whether it’s yours or the company for which you work – is determined by every action you take. Olivia Pope was the brand from the white hat to the specific, dramatic walk, to the large purses and fashionable clothes. In your business, everything from your employees to your advertising and marketing materials tell a story about you. What do you want it to be?

5. Your team is everything. One of the quotes from the final episodes of Scandal that was repeated on social media was “… over the cliff” as each of Olivia Pope’s OPA team agreed to stand by her no matter the legal ramifications. It was a sign of trust, friendship and loyalty. Treating employees well – in word and actions – will generate respect. They might not go “over the cliff” for you but they will support you.

6. Trust/Honesty/Transparency. In the last episodes of Scandal, every character paid the price for their bad decisions. However, the underlying theme that redeemed them in the eyes of the audience was the final decision to tell the truth. Don’t wait until you’re in a pickle to rely on honesty – use it with every audience you have. Transparency is essential.

7. Leaders lead. People wanted to work with Olivia Pope because she got things done. She was influential. She had a presence. She had confidence. She knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to make it happen. Find your voice and step up.

8. Be passionate. This is not about office romance, but rather about truly believing in something – a cause, a person, a product – and doing everything you can to support and grow it. The characters on Scandal had a variety of topics they were passionate about often demonstrated through dramatic monologues or long silences or radical actions. You want to make others feel the way you do and have them follow or support you in your efforts. Simple actions make big impacts.

Click “leave a comment” so we can talk about how these characteristics can be part of your business communications efforts or to share this post with your network.