Thursday, October 9, 2008

Calming Client Fears About the Financial Meltdown

Today I want to address the flipside of the practice of law, the practice of being a counsler to worried clients. The overwhelming fear many attorneys and professionals have to address from their clients on a daily basis can be frightening in and of itself. How can you ease their worries when you yourself are watching your stock portfolio take a dive? A a counselor of law you are a communicator and communicators must meet the financial disaster head on and suggest some steps you should take to get people talking.

Talk to employees, encourage leaders

Employees, like everyone else, are clearly worried about today’s economic tailspin. In the absence of clear information from their company, they will assume the worst. Most are looking for straight answers to two basic questions:

  • What does this mean to our company?
  • What does this mean to me, as part of this company?

Morale and productivity will take a serious hit if workers are distracted by these looming questions. Employees need to be given the information most important to them, so I still have a 401K? Are my health benefits at risk? Will I ever have a job on Monday? The role of information in an age of uncertainty is to reduce that uncertainty—not that we can eliminate it, but we can reduce it.

And real leadership requires everyone in the company to act, including three major groups.

  • Executives. Need to explain the ‘what’ in clear and simple terms. What does this mean for our company—and our industry?
  • Managers. They should be prepared to answer the more detailed—and perhaps more personal—questions employees want to ask their direct supervisors.
  • Employees. Rank-and-file employees have communications responsibilities as well. It’s everyone’s responsibility to disagree with people you think are wrong. Employees also need to ask good questions and demand information, instead of being driven by rumor and innuendo.

What you can do to calm nerves

Here are some steps you can encourage your client to take to help calm nerves and encourage leadership among all employees.

  • Call a special meeting or town hall. Make the economic crisis the only topic. Explain how the downturn affects your company and your industry. Anticipate the tough questions before the meeting and answer them before anyone asks. Solicit questions from employees before the meeting and encourage them to submit questions electronically afterwards. Post the answers on your intranet.
  • Follow up. Support the town hall with follow-up stories on your intranet and encourage comments. Consider a contextual piece in your print publication that further explains the crisis and the ripple effects on your business and on employees.
  • Talk about employee 401(k) plans. After worrying about job security, employees will next fret about their 401(k)s and other retirement plans. This is HR’s chance to shine by providing clear information and good advice. HR might even want to start a blog to answer questions, or create counseling sessions for employees.
  • Use social media to get everyone involved. Start a temporary CEO blog that allows the boss to address news events, changes in the company’s fortunes and questions from employees. Use the blog to elicit ideas about what everyone can do to cut costs or work more efficiently. Follow up with stories and videos that recognize employees who came up with ideas you’re using.
  • Find the silver lining. Use the crisis to teach employees—and yourself—about the economics of your company and industry. How can the organization position itself to be ready when the economy recovers? Everyone’s paying attention, so you might as well make the most of it.

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