November 18, 2020

Leading in Turbulent Times | Step 2 of 5: Execute Decisively

Communication Is Key
The first step to effective execution is communication. In times of crisis, communication needs to happen early and often. Figure out which of your stakeholders need what information, and communicate in a 360-degree manner. Everyone from your board to your cleaning crew needs to understand how they’ll be impacted, what’s changing operationally within the organization, and what the future goals are in the new environment.

Determine a frequency and cadence for communication, in addition to who should be hearing from you. Here are the first connections to make:

1. Board chair: The first phone call you make should be to your board chair. This discussion will determine the timing and communication method with the rest of your board. The type and urgency of the crisis will play a large part in shaping these decisions.

2. Staff: Staff should come next. Your staff should be learning about the crisis and next steps from you, not from the media, other organizations, or, worst of all, through the grapevine.

3. Key stakeholders: After your staff has been brought up to speed, you can start looping in any other key stakeholders — donors, partners, members, volunteers, or really anyone else who deserves to know before the general public. This may not apply for all emergencies, but think through the groups and establish your rationale for communication or lack thereof. Make sure to tailor your message for each respective group.

4. Public: Finally, strategize with your leadership team about what, if anything, you notify the general public about. Decide which channels you will share that message through — press releases, social media posts, drafted statements, talking points, etc.

Whether it’s board, staff, or other partners, it’s important that everyone on your team has the same talking points, same message, and understands any nuances about the situation. It’s equally important that this information is provided enough in advance so that everyone can effectively familiarize themselves with it.


Perfect Is the Enemy of Good
Remember that in times of great uncertainty it’s not necessarily about making a perfect choice. It’s about making a choice and then making it perfect.

In times of uncertainty, there’s simply no time for paralysis of analysis. Decisions need to be made, and it’s your job to make them. One of the most tragic mistakes leaders make in tough times is allowing their emotions to influence their decision-making process. When this happens, people rely on intuition and gut instinct to get them through, with typically unpredictable results.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, we saw a number of charities pivot on a dime. Instead of cancelling or postponing their signature fundraising event, they successfully adapted it to a “no-show” format or in some cases, an entirely virtual one. Many of these same charities took further advantage of donors being homebound and had their teams reach out to their entire contact list as part of a “gratitude tour.”

Consider the alternative: Had these charities failed to act decisively and chosen to cancel or delay their events, their donors may have been more drawn to charities willing to experiment and try new things.

Maybe the most important thing to get comfortable with is that your organization’s situation can change from moment to moment. You must be willing to rapidly process all available information and then make decisions with courage and conviction. 

You shouldn’t be trying to build a mansion on quicksand, but you’d do well to put down a few well-placed boards. We’ll talk more in the next section about the need for continuous evaluation.


The Short Version

  • Contact your board chair.
  • Create a list and an order in which stakeholders are to be contacted.
  • Draft your initial message(s) – tailored for each group of stakeholders – and determined the cadence, frequency, and method of communication.
  • Execute plans rapidly and decisively.