In my previous blog, “A Crisis Like No Other,” I shared the challenges the COVID-19 crisis has posed that have both reinforced communication best practices and motivated us to respond differently. In this blog, I wanted to focus on an idea I presented – Crisis response is not about perfection; it demands innovative solutions to difficult circumstances – and delve into the actions our teams at Mercury took to implement innovative approaches in a rapidly evolving time.
In the beginning, at the leadership level, our CEO began by pulling together and leading a cross-functional response team. We quickly defined four goals that would inspire our employees and guide our strategies: to protect the health, safety and livelihoods of our people; to continue to deliver on our commitments to customers and stakeholders; to mitigate or reduce operational and financial risks to the business; and to continue the mission-critical work Mercury does every day to support the ongoing security of our nation, out brave men and women in uniform and the communities in which we live.
He then charged the team to operate with a bias towards action: limit reporting, come with solutions, reach consensus, and implement. With dynamic decision-making the primary objective of the corporate response team, it quickly became clear that our Marketing Communications (MarCom) team needed to mirror this organizational and structural model so we could intercept, collaborate, and quickly operationalize the decisions that were ours to execute.
As MarCom took stock of what we needed to accomplish, it was important to determine how to best activate our team in order to respond to these new challenges. First, we had to quickly reorient everyone – evaluating who did what, what strengths or special skills each team member had, and how we could best leverage those while taking into considering the very human fact that different people have different reactions to crisis.
We also had to balance our various responsibilities to avoid burnout in what would no doubt require around-the-clock availability, so we implemented a “duty” calendar where “on-call” responsibilities rotated through the team leadership. There is a high-performance team aspect of crisis: you discover who you can lean on and what people can do. It was imperative that my team understand the priorities, the sense of urgency, and remained aligned with the corporate goals during the crisis; we were focused on the livelihood of our employees, so our communications and employee-engagement strategies and tactics needed to reflect this.
At the same time, our mantra was (and continues to be) to “move at the speed of relevance.” We immediately implemented a 30-minute daily crisis communications meetup with a core group tasked with alignment on prioritization and rapid execution. Our regular marketing team cadence was replaced with a new accelerated one. We focused on flexing – ‘reorganizing’ to ensure speedy decision-making – and were able to tighten up, partly by simultaneously ‘flattening’ the decision making process, and thus respond more nimbly and efficiently to continuous disruption.
It also became clear that one action team was not enough, that we needed several teams who were designed to be responsive for discrete areas of accountability. For example, in addition to our executive MarCom team, we stood up a team to focus on communicating to our external customers and a similar team to ensure the ongoing marketing initiatives stayed on track. By replicating and creating a network of teams, we were able to reap the rewards of being independent, taking personal responsibility of the decisions we made, and turbo-charging our decision making in order to “move at the speed of relevance.”
In my next blog, I’m going to discuss how we applied the concept of flattening the decision-making process to communications, breaking down barriers across the company and building trust. Stay tuned…