Farina has led global teams for more than 20 years. He has been Chief Communications Officer of CSL, the world’s third largest biotech company, since 2014. At DuPont, he led a range of global teams for 14 years, including six years as its global Head of Public Affairs, after serving as Executive Director of Communications for then-Delaware Governor Tom Carper.
This is one for the ages.
We’ve never experienced anything quite like COVID-19. The unprecedented pandemic feels like three crises rolled into one. We’re experiencing the financial volatility of the Great Recession of 2008-09, the urgent health threat of the H1N1 pandemic and the security-shaking jolt of 9/11.
The worldwide health crisis forces organizations of all sizes into uncertain operating environments. Communications leaders daily must answer: “What should we do?” and “What’s next?”
As my own organization grapples with these questions, I’m relying on three grounding principles - and the support of dedicated, collaborative colleagues. I hope these three pieces of advice will help you navigate tumultuous conditions and provide your organization with a steady steer. I offer them in a spirit of collegiality and look forward to hearing your insights on how to lead in uncertain times.
1. Say what you stand for — and be consistent.
Effective communications leaders amplify an organization’s purpose during times of crisis. While the environment you operate in may be changing rapidly, your core purpose and values should shine through even in the darkest of days. When counseling leaders on how and when to engage key stakeholders, start with what you stand for.
At CSL Behring, our purpose is to treat rare and serious diseases through the development of biotherapies. The work we’ve done in recent years to build our global brand helps guide our actions today and tomorrow. Consistency is also key. Let your audiences know when you will communicate, and how. Otherwise, silence can be dangerous and rumors fill the vacuum.
We have earned a reputation over the years as a passionate yet responsible organization driven to care for patients - always putting patients first. So our decisions about when, what and where to communicate must ladder up to and support this purpose at all times. To that end, CSL has been publishing a steady stream of content about coronavirus for both our internal and external audiences.
Much of our external content has been focused on patient needs, amplifying the good work of advocacy groups, which are delivering their own crisis communications to patients who have rare and chronic diseases. Our internal content has given employees the practical information they are seeking, while also emphasizing all that we’re doing to stay fully functional on behalf of patients who rely on us and our products.
2. Prioritize your team.
It’s easy for a communications leader to jump into the fray of formulating and executing communications plans, while failing to prioritize your team. I’ve led communications in various industries and those experiences taught me that, regardless of industry, an organization’s communications are only as strong as the team behind them. People are our greatest asset. We win and lose together.
Also remember that your communications team is comprised of people who – during a time of great volatility – have their own personal needs and uncertainties. Acknowledge that by actively and frequently engaging with your people, especially when working remotely. It’s not just a kind and ethical thing to do; it’s business critical. Every day during this global pandemic, I gather the CSL global communications leaders from all geographies together virtually for a daily touchpoint, ensuring we are all aligned and coordinated on communications at the local/regional/global levels.
It’s about getting down to business, but it’s also about taking the pulse of these important people who will carry out our communications mission. Do they need anything from me to complete their tasks and projects? Is something going on personally for anyone? These 30 minutes go a long way in keeping us all connected. If you can have a favorite part of your day during a global crisis, this is it for me.
I also make certain to start any email or call by inquiring about the person and their family’s safety and well being. I listen thoughtfully to the responses. If conditions hamper your ability to connect in-person, consider hosting virtual online coffee catch-ups or “open door” sessions to ensure that leaders are visible to their teams and available to answer questions. When you consistently do these best practices, you serve as a role model for other managers and create a positive environment for coaching them how to maintain close, human connections with their teams.
3. Find time to think.
Carve out time in your day to step back and think about the big picture. It won’t be easy, but make it a priority. This time allows you to be thoughtful, plan ahead and ask yourself: Is there an opportunity or an obstacle that I have overlooked? Am I prioritizing my time effectively? What needs to be done now, and what can be “parked” until a crisis has passed?
I know how challenging this is, particularly for those of us who work with global teams. And although my daughter is now a young adult, I remember the additional complexities of juggling sick days or sleepless nights with a young child or trying to flex my work schedule to attend her activities and swim meets.
What works for me is waking up at 5:15 am daily for an outdoor run. This is my “alone” time to get fresh air and freshen my perspective before diving into the work. I feel like I accomplished a deed for myself for the day.
If you haven’t established a rhythm for yourself, do it now and work to maintain it after the current crisis has passed. As leaders, we are only human and should allow our brains the white space to recharge. Find your time. You’ll be glad you did.
Now that you’ve read my approach, I’m looking forward to hearing from you. What are your best practices for managing in uncertain times?