Weaving It All Together: How To Talk About Moving Forward

Many of us are getting out of rapid response mode and entering the restabilization phase. You’ve been bombarded with advice (including ours!) about leading through COVID-19—on everything from scenario planning to managing cash flow to check-ins. You’ve been hard at work developing plans, getting input, and tracking your finances. (And all while trying to figure out how to pronounce “X Æ A-12”!)

As you’re making more plans and decisions, the challenge is twofold: keeping track of the different threads for yourself, and communicating them in a way that inspires confidence and isn’t confusing to everyone else. As a leader, part of your job is to provide a container for your staff—that is, to make sense of this complex experience to promote the stability, continuity, and sense of purpose that helps us cope during a crisis. The good news is that doing this can help you get to a new level of clarity, too.

So, how do you weave it all together to create a cohesive, holistic picture?

One way forward: imagine that the purpose of your next staff meeting is to get everyone on the same page. What’s your “stump speech” about your organization’s approach to this crisis?

Here are the key components for your “stump speech”:

  1. Purpose: What’s happening and what you’re called to do.
  2. Aim: Your headline(s) for what you’re trying to accomplish.
  3. Uncertainties: The unknowns, sticking points, and tensions.
  4. Scenarios: How you’re moving forward in ways that reflect the uncertainties.
  5. Team impact: How people might be affected by the plan(s).
  6. What’s next: What people can expect from you moving forward.

Check out the chart below for more information about each component (plus sample language!). Or, go straight to our worksheet to get started!

Components Sample Language
What’s happening and what you’re called to do. Ground people in the context. How are your community members experiencing life differently now? Acknowledge ways that this crisis may be directly and disproportionately impacting your team members.

State your organization’s purpose. What has been your part in addressing social issues, and what does your role look like now?

“Our communities—especially Black and indigenous people, undocumented folks, poor people, and people with disabilities—are in crisis. People are struggling with housing instability, food scarcity, and job insecurity. Our community members and we are experiencing disruptions in every aspect of life. And, while this crisis is impacting us all, some of us are being hit particularly hard.”

“We’ve always been the go-to for [providing quality education for K-8 students / empowering LGBTQ activists in local communities / working for health equity for communities of color]. Now, more than ever, our communities are counting on us to [support student learning and well-being / build power for LGBTQ organizers / advocate for healthcare reform]. Our job right now is to ____.”

What you’re working towards. Provide a high-level summary of how you’re responding and what will drive and guide your team to fulfill its purpose. If anything has changed due to reprioritization, name what has shifted.

Bonus: Highlight some recent wins and successes.

“Right now, our guiding objectives are three-fold: first, to continue meeting the needs of our community—especially those most marginalized—in the short term while we advocate for long-term systemic and structural change; second, to keep our people safe and come out of this period in as strong a shape as possible; and third, to learn from this experience overall so we can continue to adapt and move forward.”

“We’ve already been doing this in a few ways. Most recently, our organizing team held a successful phone bank to get the word out to our members about filling out the census.”

What you don’t know. Acknowledge uncertainties and tensions, including equity implications or tough calls that you’ll be watching out for. “There are some big uncertainties. We don’t know [when it will be safe for us to convene people or travel / how this will affect voter turnout / when schools will stop distance learning]. We’re not sure what ‘reopening’ will look like. We know everyone has different responsibilities, needs, and risks to weigh, and we’ll need to be flexible and thoughtful to treat people fairly and equitably.”
What you have planned. Lay out the paths you’ve identified based on your aims and the tensions you’re navigating. What is the most likely scenario that you’re preparing for? (If you haven’t done scenario planning yet, check out our article and tool to get started). “The scenarios we’re considering are A, B, and C. The one that we think is most likely to happen is ___. To prepare for that scenario, we are going to ___. With that said, if ___ happens, the scenario we’ll move forward with is ___.

Ultimately, the worst-case scenario that we’re trying to avoid is ___. We hope never to get there, but if anything changes, here’s how we’ll communicate about it: ___.”

What it means for your team. How might your plans impact your people? Share new or adjusted expectations and any obstacles you anticipate.

Specify where they can go for more information or with questions.

“What we think this means for everyone is…

  • We’ll be working remotely until at least ___.
  • If you’re a caregiver, your manager will be checking in with you about your circumstances so we can figure out how to best support all staff when we reopen.
  • For program staff, your goals and job responsibilities will be adjusted. We’ll also work with you to create safety protocols for working with volunteers and clients.
  • We’re not sure what this will mean for our fall fundraiser, but we’ll have an update by ___.
  • Heads up for non-events staff—If we decide to make the conference virtual, it’ll be all hands on deck!”

“If you have any questions about this, talk to your manager or team head. If you have questions about policy changes, talk to the HR director.”

What’s next (plus, gratitude!). What are you committing to regarding communication, operationalization, and revisiting?

Express gratitude (you should do this throughout, but make sure to end on this note!).

“We’re committed to sharing updates at our biweekly staff meetings (with follow-up notes in an email). You will also get updates at your weekly team meetings. We promise that we’ll try to make and communicate tough decisions as early as we can. We’ll revisit our plans [at the end of the month / at the end of the school year / when we hear back from our funders]. We’ll be getting input via [team meetings / a brief monthly survey / through 1-1 check-ins].”

“I appreciate everyone for doing your best to support and serve our community, despite so many obstacles. Thank you for everything you’re doing.”

As you’re working on weaving it all together, remember that you may never be able to craft a neat and linear narrative, but that doesn’t have to stop you from having purposeful and effective communication. Forget about perfection and focus on being honest, clear, and consistent.

Get started now with our simple worksheet below, to help you think through what to communicate to your team about your organization’s approach moving forward.

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