Why Leaders Need to Overcommunicate During a Crisis
Sudheesh Nair knows what bad communication looks like. During the 2001 and 2008 economic downturns, he was working at companies where the leadership team made decisions behind closed doors and simply conveyed instructions to team members afterward. “There was no context for employees,” says Nair, now the CEO of ThoughtSpot, an analytics and data company. “When you give people responsibility without context or authority, it’s a recipe for disaster.” That’s why, throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Nair is taking a different approach to leading his 500 global employees. “We’re going for radical transparency and candor,” he says. Here’s how he’s creating a better conversation.
1. Be an accessible leader.
Before the company started working from home, Nair would often take breaks at the Sunnyvale HQ’s coffee shop, and his casual conversations often led to valuable insight. “I wanted to duplicate that in the worlds of Zoom and Webex,” Nair says. “Whenever I have some free time on my calendar, I’ll send out a Zoom link in Slack and let our staff know that I’ll be hanging out for the next half an hour. Anyone can join, and it’s like a virtual coffee place.” He started calling these virtual coffee chats AMAs, like on Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series, but has shifted the moniker to AMTA, for Ask Me or Tell Me Anything. “Sometimes our CRO joins me, and it has really helped us understand and work through the difficulties and challenges people within the company have been going through.”
2. Create a structure, and stick to it.
“Structured communication is extremely important right now,” Nair says. Individual team meetings are happening three times a week, and a weekly all-hands meeting allows the exec team to regularly present news to the entire staff. Some spotlight particular populations within the company; one featured female leaders, who talked about the extra pressure women may be feeling at this time, especially those juggling families, children, and now homeschooling. “We changed the structure from being just a broadcast to really opening it up to be an inside view of other people’s experiences,” he says.
3. Acknowledge your team’s stress.
“We know that work is not everything, and especially with something like this happening around the world, it’s critical to put our experience in the context of We are still so blessed despite everything going on, rather than Why is this happening to me?” Nair says. ThoughtSpot has provided all employees with a free subscription to a yoga and meditation app, and asked author Mike Robbins, an expert in authenticity and appreciation, to speak with the staff. Says Nair: “We’re trying to create a holistic approach.”
4. Give employees a platform — and a voice.
Even with the increase of meetings and impromptu chats with the leadership team, Nair knows that not everyone at ThoughtSpot may be comfortable publicly voicing their opinion. With the help of a tool called Officevibe, Nair and his executive team have been soliciting anonymous feedback from all employees across the company, allowing any staffer to voice concerns or complaints without attaching their name to it. “We’re getting really candid feedback,” he says. “And that kind of feedback is so critical.”