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April 16, 2020

Fun Houses, Vulnerability & Internal Communications

Funhouse Mirror


by Erin Williamson, Senior Account Manager

I can’t remember the name of the particular attraction, but if you’ve ever been to a state fair – you know the one – the brightly colored maze in a box. Possibly called a funhouse on the garish, flashing sign. Crazy, but with a “K.” Creepy clowns painted on the outside. The steep price of four (four!) tickets gets you admission to rooms of mirrors, floors shifting beneath your feet. Will you make it out?

You will. But who the heck is going to be caught dead at a carnival right now?

Those of us of a certain age (under 40 – but barely – let us have that!) have seen our fair share of ups and downs when it comes to the economy. Millennials are scarred by the Great Recession (among other sociological issues), whether they realize it or not. We also have vivid memories of Sept. 2001 and its aftermath. Our parents and grandparents have seen wars of tremendous cost – Korea, Vietnam. They take their cues from the Greatest Generation.

But here we are in a global pandemic, and none of us, no matter the generational boxes we marketers like to use, know what comes next.

There is typically one, predetermined, way out of a carnival funhouse. What do we make of our current house of horrors?

Our urges to band together and show our force via commerce are mostly prohibited by social distancing guidelines. Business owners have shown great creativity in attempting to provide services, income for employees and a way to survive, but most are treading water at best.

There is no business, big or small, not affected by current events. We are all vulnerable, and vulnerability is scary. It’s frightening on a personal level, and it’s terrifying for the business owners who invest in their dreams and care deeply about the well-being of their own people.

Researcher, author and TED Talk extraordinaire Brené Brown’s message has never been more clear – vulnerability is key, and now more than ever. She’s turned her focus to businesses with her last release, “Dare to Lead.” Risk. Uncertainty. Emotional exposure. Recipe for business failure, you think? You’d be wrong.

That’s how Brown defines vulnerability, and that is the exact landscape for business owners at this moment. She argues – and empirically proves – that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. It is the very root of human connection.

So how to activate our weaknesses right now? Let’s use what we have. Our humans.

If you care enough to be reading this far, you likely care for your employees. Do they know it? Maybe. Have you expressed it? We hope so. If not, let’s get started.

There is not much we can do to control our outside circumstances at the moment. There is no need to hide from that. Honesty and openness with your employees creates compassion, but those things also build advocates for your brand and mission. When your employees feel part of something bigger, you can do great things. While these people are busy doing their jobs, they are also in the position to exemplify who you strive to be or reach.

Right now with our healthcare clients, we are watching in awe as they band together and take pride in their work. As they should! Thankfully they feel supported and are eager to share community messaging surrounding social distancing and staying well.

But those things don’t just happen. These particular healthcare heroes feel safe… and seen. They are not bitter about being in the line of fire though we’re sure they feel vulnerable. They are on fire with passion and eagerness to make a difference, even if they go home exhausted at the end of the day. They feel strong and supported thanks to the messaging and communication of their employers. They are part of something bigger. They matter.

How do you create this? Vulnerability. Authenticity. Transparency. Human connection is a beautiful thing. Now is the time to embrace that humanity. Nurture it, no matter how hard.

You may be struggling to keep your employees on payroll. But openness and honesty – vulnerability – not only creates loyalty, but understanding. That goes for internal communication and even external – dealing with customers in person and via social media. No one wants a struggle, but when we feel supported, we know we can all do the most difficult things.

And when the ground shifts beneath our feet, we steady ourselves. We look in those mirrors and remember who we are. We’ve got this.