When Times Are Tough, Strong Organizations Do These 5 Things

By Stephen Duncan and Laura Garner

Companies today are facing an enormous amount of risk, from cultural and compliance mishaps, to becoming embedded in political controversy, to managing leadership changes and mergers. The prevalence of fake news and dissolution of trust is only adding to their challenges.

But when times get tough, your employees and internal stakeholders can play a pivotal role in promoting the truth about your organization.

To better understand today’s landscape and how organizations can help mitigate risk, Weber Shandwick and IABC St. Louis recently brought together communications experts from Anheuser-Busch, Nestlé Purina and Saint Louis University to share insights and best practices on the importance of strong stakeholder communications before, during and after turbulent times.

Here are five tips to engage and strengthen relationships with your internal stakeholders:


Leaders may feel tempted to stay out of sight during turbulent times, but this is when it is critical that they are seen in their organization providing reassurance, answering questions, listening and showing confidence in the future.

Organizations should use platforms like town halls or webcasts to get leaders in front of people. Smaller group meetings and simple “walkabouts” or lunches will also help leaders connect with people. Visibility shows that leaders share employees’ concerns and fears, and are empathetic. It is also equally important for direct managers to be a part of the communication process, as they are a trusted resource and influence how employees react to change and crises.


These days, many companies are becoming embroiled in political controversy, and conventional wisdom suggests that CEOs should avoid getting involved in heated debates and risk alienating customers, investors and employees.

Research by Weber Shandwick found that consumers approve of CEO activism when the issues are relevant to the company’s business, and millennials are particularly supportive of businesses with activist CEOs.1 Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist, says, “In order to reap the benefits and mitigate the risks, companies have to better understand the attitudes of internal and external stakeholders when it comes to controversial issues… [and] clarify how they relate to the company’s values and business.”

(1) Weber Shandwick, The Dawn of CEO Activism, June 2016


During times of confusion or uncertainty, the core values of your business are important in guiding your actions when all else fails. Leaders should use their purpose and values to make decisions, unite people around a common cause and help people make sense of the actions the business takes to respond to the crisis around it.


During crisis situations, there are many examples of events that individuals can do nothing to change.

Businesses need to give employees things to focus on that they do have some control over — customer service, product quality, operational safety, CSR — activities which provide long- and short-term benefits for the business. They also create opportunities for employees to collaborate and take pride in their achievements.


Nothing shows respect more than the willingness to listen to the concerns of others and act on the feedback received.

Feedback channels can take a variety of forms designed to suit the nature of work and organizational culture. The channels themselves are less important than the fact they exist, they are monitored, the feedback is acted on and employees hear what has been done as a result of their feedback. This encourages more feedback and builds employees’ trust in the organization and its leaders.


Times of change and crisis are also a time to reinforce your organization’s purpose, values and behaviors. Sustaining communication during the process of recovery is just as important as at the time of a crisis. Turbulent times will pass and a sense of normality will resume. If you have been supportive of employees and your other key internal stakeholders during the tough times, then you will emerge with a more engaged workforce, poised for continued future success.

Stephen Duncan and Laura Garner lead employee engagement and change management initiatives for global clients at Weber Shandwick.

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