Communicating Through Crisis with Special Guest Panel

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As we focus on a pandemic around the world, we are all searching for information and for answers. On a personal level, we’re relying on our government and our media to share what’s happening. It’s an unprecedented topic and a new normal in our homes, schools and our lives.  But we also wonder about our professional lives. And companies have to interpret the impact of that new normal for employees.  In most companies, that calls up the communications and human resources teams to activate or develop a crisis communication plan.

SW&A hosted a special panel with some of our colleagues and friends, who know how to manage crisis communications. You’ll hear insights and best practices on what employees and customers need and want during trying times. It takes clarity in ambiguity, confidence in uncertainty and some guidance and advice from those who’ve been there a time or two.


More About Our Panel

Patti Wilmot: former HR Leader – Patti has over twenty years’ experience as a former-chief human resources officer. She has helped create award-winning leadership development programs focused on creating a “bench” of future leaders. She brings expertise in assessing talent, improving the effectiveness of leadership teams and helping leaders leverage their strengths to improve effectiveness and impact.

Steve Soltis: former Executive Communications Leader – Steve is a senior adviser with MAS Leadership Communication. Soltis recently retired from The Coca-Cola Company, where he led both executive and internal communication for the past 11 years. In his role at Coca-Cola, Soltis was responsible for orchestrating the company’s entire C-suite executive visibility efforts and for formulating its employee communication strategies and execution.

Francie Schulwolf: Former Communications Leader at InterContinental Hotel Group – Francie’s focus is on developing strong, confident communicators. With close to twenty-five years of global, corporate experience in advertising, marketing and communications, she is intimately familiar with the demands executives face. This understanding, along with her honest and warm style, create a safe and comfortable environment for individuals to learn and grow.

Sally Williamson: Founder of SW&A – Sally is a leading resource for improving the impact of spoken communications. She has developed key messages and coached leaders and their teams to deliver them effectively for more than thirty years. Sally specializes in executive coaching and developing custom programs for groups across company verticals.


Show Highlights:

  • What is the picture of success? What do you want to achieve through this situation?
  • How can businesses leverage this situation? How to win hearts and minds. 
  • What is your central message and who are your stakeholders? 
  • Know how your employees are doing, understand what your consumers are needing to hear.
  • Timing is critical and consistency is key. 
  • Address compensation as best as possible for employees. Be honest with your messaging, if you don’t know the answer let employees know. 
  • You can be just as clear about what you know and what you don’t know.
  • Always show unity with leadership and re-enforce it in your messaging.
  • Figure out who are your best messengers who can clearly communicate. Be in constant contact with your employees. 
  • Come out with messaging that connects with your brand and your culture. 
  • How to construct a plan that shows a picture of success – do this through employee engagement and build off of that. 
  • How do you help a group think about clarity and how to understand it? 
  • How do leaders deliver this messaging to their teams? There needs to be a means to get the message to them, let employees know how it will get to them and be consistent. 
  • Front line people managers are incredibly important during this time, this is the time to step up and this is the time to reach out to employees. 
  • Contact each individual employee frequently and know what is going on with your employees. 
  • Even if you don’t have something to say to employees, still have that touch point to contact them frequently. Employee care is incredibly important. Keep morale up. 
  • Make sure your employees hear about what you are doing before the public knows.
  • Get senior leadership out, touching base with employees personally. 
  • Learn to develop manager talking points from leadership.
  • What companies are doing a good job with communicating their message through the crisis?
  • Clarity of truth is important. Not all companies can give good news. 
  • This is the moment that will define your leadership. 
  • It’s overwhelming as a leader right now, leaders need to be the calming force and utilize empathy.
  • Leaders need to be able to send information both ways, up to higher leadership and down to employees. 
  • Don’t let a world wide crisis become your crisis, do everything with kindness and with accurate information. 
  • Ask people how they are and if they know what they are supposed to be doing during this time. 
  • How we treat our team members now will come back to us.

Like what you hear? Hear more episodes like this on the What’s Your Story podcast page!

IT’S GETTING PERSONAL – Some Guidance for Managers

The last few weeks have been hard on everyone, and we’re still working through what a pandemic means for each of us and our families. Our thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who is dealing with COVID-19 in their homes and with their loved ones.

It has disrupted our work and our families, and we still don’t know what lies ahead. And neither do any of the managers trying to support and guide people through this uncertainty.

The role of the manager has lost its boundaries in the last few weeks.

Because once employees watch CNN, Fox News, local networks and all online news feeds for an update, they’re getting on calls with their managers and bringing their concerns and questions to those calls. Some concerns are about the work at hand, but most are about what’s ahead and how this will impact me.

It’s a role that a lot of managers just aren’t ready for. It’s ballooned beyond what I owe you today to what happens to me tomorrow. Emotions are on edge, protocols are forgotten, and managers are dealing with more neediness than they’ve seen before.

And, some managers are overwhelmed. This is so much more than managing work process and individual contributions.  It’s getting personal to people’s lives and what they’re dealing with in their virtual setting from simple things like home schooling and groceries to complex things like worrying about elderly parents and wondering how to keep your family and friends safe.  It’s humanity.  It’s up close and personal, and it’s overwhelming to someone who didn’t really sign up to take on counseling.

It’s a tough role; it’s a tough time. And as one colleague said, “This is when we’ll figure out who the strong people leaders really are.”

Whether you’re a young manager trying to navigate the blurred lines or an overwhelmed one looking for a few best practices, here are our thoughts on connection that could help out.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the questions coming your way, don’t worry about providing  answers.  There aren’t concrete answers available right now.  Just listen. A starting point for anyone feeling overwhelmed or scared is to feel that someone is listening to those concerns.

Listen and acknowledge the worries.  Keep in mind that some employees live alone, and it won’t take many days of work from home to feel alone and lonely. Be a simple point of connection.  Listen and acknowledge the feelings that you hear.


Even though you’re juggling multiple things and jumping from call to call, your team doesn’t see it. They don’t have visibility to the line outside your office or your calendar invites which keep moving around.  They lose perspective on the tugs of your time, and you may lose a little perspective on their inputs as they ask for connection.

If you manage a large team, you may find it helpful to take notes and keep track of what I told you about my family or my roommates.  It will mean everything to me if you remember me when we talk again. And when people are under stress, they don’t remember as well as they normally do.


You have a choice in what you share about your life and your family. In the last two weeks, some managers have felt invigorated to share their personal lives and home hurdles, and others feel like their entire team just moved into their living room.  Some managers are very open about their personal lives; others are more cautious.  And both reactions are OK.  You can define your boundaries and how front and center you want your whole life to be to others.

You owe employees a listening moment, not always your life story. You should always be present with your team, but it’s more about the team than the deep dive into you.


You can’t solve this for everyone.  It’s going to be a long and hard process.  And you don’t have to.  You can hear me without taking on my challenges. Be very careful about that.  There is an art to learning how to help someone else feel better without making yourself feel worse. Focus on making someone feel heard, not solving their problem.  Notice we keep coming back to…. Just Listen.


I have four siblings and lots of nieces and nephews.  And when my father died, we had a house full of people working through the grief and the logistics. It was sad, it was close, and it was a little suffocating. And over the course of those days, we walked miles and miles…never all together and never fully alone.  We just seemed to pair up and take walks.  It was about getting space, breathing deeper, and resetting ourselves. It was the simple-ness of doing something. Take the space you need, especially when you’re in a newly defined workspace.  Take the time you need to breathe and clear your head.


It seems counterintuitive to tell a manager to put themselves first.  But the reality is no one is their best under pressure.  Nerves get frayed, and emotions run high.  You don’t want to be back on your heels, but the circumstances are not normal. Your team needs you to bring your best game.  Find a way to start each day with you.  Whatever it takes for you to focus your mind, open your heart and just take this one day at a time.

We’re here when you need us.

Sally Williamson - Speech Writing

Clarity Around Complexity with Bharath Kadaba

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Innovation is king. But that doesn’t mean everyone understands it or knows how to leverage it. In fact, many view it as the silver bullet and the easy button that changes everything overnight. And that’s just not how it works.

Innovation evolves step by step and can be years in the making before a viable product or concept can be leveraged. And that’s why companies invest in future technologies.

On our latest episode of What’s Your Story, Sally speaks with Bharath Kadaba, Chief Innovation Officer of Intuit, about his role building and leading the Technology Futures group within Intuit, and how that group communicates about their work in a way that builds interest and buy-in.


More About Bharath Kadaba

Bharath Kadaba is Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at Intuit, and leads the Technology Futures group.  His organization is responsible for creating game-changing technology in support of Intuit’s mission to power prosperity for consumer, small business and self-employed customers.

Since joining the company in 2008, Bharath has served in a variety of executive leadership positions. Prior to his current role, he was Vice President and Engineering Fellow with responsibility for leading engineering teams that built innovative new technology for the company’s QuickBooks, TurboTax and Mint product lines. Before that, he led advanced technology development as Vice President for Global Ready Offerings, and Vice President for the Global Business Division, Product Development, respectively.

Before Intuit, Bharath was Vice President of Media Engineering at Yahoo, where he led the development of a shared services platform to serve as the foundation for all media properties (news, finance, sports, games, etc.) and significantly expanded the U.S. media product capabilities. Prior to Yahoo, he was an executive with Siebel Systems, AristaSoft, and News Corp., after spending 15 years at IBM and IBM’s TJ Watson Labs.

Bharath earned a Ph.D. in Computer Networks from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and a BSEE and Master’s in Computers and Control from the Indian Institute of Science.


Show Highlights

  • Innovation evolves- What is it and how do you leverage it?
  • Why do companies invest in future technology?
  • How does a company define a future technology group?
  • How do we bring technologies and build products that benefit our customers?
    • Start with the customer problems.
  • The goal is to help consumers lead a prosperous life as technology is constantly changing,
  • what is the match between the customer problem and the new technology?
  • Purpose: To help customers at the same time as building future technology.
  • Customers always want to see how they can make more money.
  • Small teams that are obsessed with technology – How can we change the way humans interact with machines?
  • There is a need for people who are passionate about the work, problem solver, innovative, and future thinking.
  • The beauty of the deep craft expertise is somebody who knows the tech well and can problem solve.
  • Always be willing to explore multiple solutions. Fall in love with the problem not the solution.
  • What is a craft expert?
  • How do you find a craft expert and a person with curiosity and expertise?
    • Find somebody customer obsessed, they will be the first to solve the problem.
  • Customer Collaborative commerce? What is it?
  • How does your team think about clarity when outcomes aren’t always clean/how to find clarity in communication?
  • Understand what is clear and what is ambiguous – Always set the expectations of what you know and don’t know from the start.
  • Communication and narratives are critically important. Know what the challenge is and why you have the challenge.
  • How to show that you are about the future and relevant today at the same time.
  • How to invert a story so that it’s built entirely from the consumer’s perspective?
  • How to teach a team to do good work and illustrate what they do?
  • How much has awareness gone up since they began talking about what they do?
  • How storytelling has brought to life the impact of what they have done and how they do it?
  • Doing Great Work is not enough, you have to stand up and tell a story.


Like what you hear? Hear more episodes like this on the What’s Your Story podcast page!