Communicating Decisions in Times of Uncertainty
The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 (and the barrage of challenges since then) have made clear: the decision-making and communication patterns we’ve relied on for years are not what our teams need when facing uncertainty and disruption.
When we were operating in a “business as usual” environment, we as leaders had time and space to thoroughly validate assumptions, craft clear messages, and issue complete directives. The speed of change we’re experiencing now means that we can’t wait until we have all the information to communicate directly with our teams.
As we navigated the early days of this situation at Persimmon, we chose to meet with our team and send out an all-hands email on Friday (3/13/2020) explaining our current policy, our information sources, our plan to support clients, and our plan to support the safety (and feelings of safety) among our team. You can see a copy of what we sent here:
Sending this email was uncomfortable—so much was still unknown about the situation locally, as well as what other businesses and community leaders were doing and recommending. We wondered, as many leaders might, the right balance between being proactive and acting prematurely.
As it happens, it was just thirty-six hours later that the situation changed rapidly on the ground. While few businesses at that stage had made remote work official, our state, national, and health leaders had begun emphatically pushing social distancing as the best tool in our arsenal to halt the spread of the disease.
On Sunday, we sent a new communication to our team:
In contrast to the confusion you might expect, our team acted with remarkable adaptability and speed. The reason? Our team had context for the new guidance. Had we waited until we had all the answers, the news that we were shutting down our physical offices and moving all work remote could have been much more disruptive, to our team and to our clients.
This lesson has pushed Persimmon toward even more openness in the way we communicate. We have implemented daily all-hands stand-up meetings (15 minutes) with our team and we have published new guidance on decision-making, so our team can take action and make aligned decisions even when a leader isn’t “in the room”.
Bottom Line—empowered employees are informed employees…and we at Persimmon suspect this is a lesson we’ll be taking to heart even after the crisis has passed.