Toyota – Communication with Employees During Crisis

June 2nd, 2010 1 Comment

During a crisis, communication becomes an even more important factor than during normal times. To encourage their teams to be successful during periods of high stress, effective managers strive to provide as much accurate information to their work groups as possible. They hold regular communication meetings even if there is no new information to convey. It is very important that information be delivered timely; as much as you know and have the liberty to share. It is okay to say I don’t know, if you don’t know. Be clear, this is what is known and this is what is not known at this time.

The articles that I’ve read about the recent Toyota automobile recalls got me thinking about this. While there are different cultural norms around communication, information sharing, company miss-steps, and how issues are approached, it seems as though there were multiple missed opportunities. As reported by the Mercury News, employees at the Toyota headquarters in Japan heard of the recalls through rumors. Even worse, more details came from the press than from their own management. The organization was well into the process of the recalls before the company issued statements to their own employees. Even then, there were only minimal statements made in their morning meetings; it was barely referenced according to the reports. Management offered no outlet to discuss and eventually only a couple of flyers with general information. As reported, the feeling was that something awful was happening and no one wanted to talk about it.

This lack of communication leaves employees confused and distrustful. It increases stress and anxiety causing loss of productivity and increased potential for mistakes.

As many of us who have experienced similar situations know, it is difficult to get work accomplished when uncertainty reigns. Employee morale suffers greatly during uncertainty and crisis; teamwork decreases. A key function of a leader is to minimize employee frustration and minimize losses in productivity.

As is many times the case, management may know about the upcoming changes or situation for a length of time prior to the actual announcement. It’s not new to them, though to the employees; it is all new. It is like being hit in the face with ice cold water – patience and understanding is essential.

While the temptation may be to communicate less, the reality is the need to communicate more. Be as open as possible. An ideal positioning would be, I want to keep everyone informed and up to date with what is known. Give accurate information.

Anticipate and prepare for employee reactions. Think about; how will they cope with the situation? How can I assist my team?

Moreover, employees are watching your model, how are you coping, what are you doing? They will follow your lead; you are the leader.

Plan for more time with your employees, not less. Management should take extra care to make themselves accessible and approachable. What does that look like?

Not being behind closed doors all the time
Making the rounds daily, checking in with each employee
For virtual employees, check in often, offer a listening ear
Body language that is not harried or overwhelmed
A Calm voice
Making eye contact
Being responsive, even if you don’t know the answer, find out and follow-up
Being attuned to the body language of your employees, what is not being said?
Being alert to changes in behavior, what is out of the norm for this person?
Providing many open venues for communication
Making time for one-on-ones even if there are no agenda items

Get employees thoughts, ideas, participation and buy-in. Trust your employees to offer solutions and input that you may not have thought of. There may be concerns that you have not considered that can be resolved. Openness lessens anxiety and worry, rumors are dispelled.

If nothing else, listening may be all that you can do. Listening is a strong component of communication. Conveying understanding may be what is needed most. Focus on listening and your team will be strengthened, you will find ways together to weather the storm.

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1 Comment

  1. Remarkable issues here. I’m very happy to peer your article. Thanks so much and I am taking a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

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