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Don’t Overthink It: How Authentic Communications Wins the Day During Times of Uncertainty

Don’t Overthink It: How Authentic Communications Wins the Day During Times of Uncertainty

Have you seen Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson’s video communication to his 133,000+ employees about the state of their business amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

If not, I think it’s worth your time to take 5 minutes to watch it. (Yes, now. I’ll wait.)


Were you as personally moved by his approach as I was? Arne's honest, caring and candid message is courageous - and something to model. 

You, like most Marriott employees, will certainly walk away with a better understanding of the magnitude of the impact this pandemic is having on the business.

But that isnt what you’ll be talking about. You’ll be telling your friends and colleagues about how moved you were by the authenticity and humanity of a corporate executive. 

Why should this level of transparency and humanity matter?

Maybe you think I’m overstating things. After all, Arne’s words dont change the state of their business. People are no less likely to be furloughed or laid off as a result of his approach.

Still, the sincerity of his message matters. It matters because it connects us – all of us, including people like me who have never worked for him or his company – to a sense of belonging, a sense that we are in this together, a sense that we can get through this.

For those who work for Marriott, the message means even more.

Marriott employees trust that:

  Their leaders care about them

  They are not in this alone

  Leaders are doing everything in their power to ensure a viable business on the other side of this crisis.

This level of care is the ultimate show of respect for their employees.

Don’t let fear keep you from being authentic.

Over the last week or two, I’ve encouraged several executives to study Arne’s video as an outstanding example of how to engage with your people during a crisis. Every one of them said the video moved them deeply.

Many are employing a similarly human approach to communicating with their own teams.

Many … but not all. Why not?

Some feel that without immediate access to a professional studio like the one Arne used, executive leadership wont look professional enough, prepared enough or smooth enough to bolster peoples confidence during this time of uncertainty. 

This is a natural fear, but it would be a shame to let it keep you from following Arne’s example. His words – and his human emotions – are what people are talking about, not the backdrop that few of us will even recall minutes after viewing.

It’s OK to not script everything.

To see what I mean, let’s take a look at another example.

Great Place to Works global CEO Michael Bush, my people manager, sent a trilogy of videos out to our employees around the same time Arne posted his video.

Michael lives in Oakland, California, where Shelter in Place guidelines were in place before most parts of the country, so he couldnt access a fancy production studio even if he wanted to. Instead, he sat on a stool at his kitchen counter, with his kitchen appliances in full view.

He kicked off his first video with a short puppet show starring a stuffed Yoda to acknowledge how many of us are unexpectedly working from home with little ones.

Why a trilogy of videos?  No, it wasn’t a master plan to connect his Yoda puppet show to a Star Wars-themed trilogy of sorts.  It was an accident. Bandwidth limitations stopped his recording mid-sentence.  While he could have started over, he chose to show us what we all already know – working from home has its challenges – and that is okay.

He shared with us what is on his mind, what we mean to him and what Great Place to Work are doing to help our customers and mitigate the impact on our business as we navigate this global economic uncertainty.

No fancy lighting. No fancy script. Just our CEO acknowledging our fears and anxieties, transparently speaking to the questions we had and being authentically human.

How will you authentically communicate to your people? 

These two examples remind us that leaders are human beings with loved ones, communities and responsibilities just like the rest of us. Couldn’t your team use the same reminder?

In this moment where everything feels out of our control, authentic and regular communications and access to our leaders are what will enable our people to give their best to their families, their communities and to our businesses during this unprecedented time.

To the executives reading this, dont allow your pursuit of perfection to get in the way of connecting with your people. They need to hear from you now more than ever (stuffed Yoda optional).

To hear directly from Michael and Holly about this week's most important topics, join us on Fridays for "Together."


Holly Petroff