Communicating in Times of Uncertainty
Success comes not from certainty but being able to live with uncertainty. (Jeffrey Fry, Author)
Life is rarely certain but at the same time for many of us, life has never been quite as uncertain as it is right now. We live in an era in which many of the accepted political norms have been turned on their heads and the pace with which technology is progressing means most of us are still catching up with what we can do today, let alone thinking about the possibilities that tomorrow might bring.
For those of us working in the internal communications sector deciding what, when and how to communicate in this age of uncertainty is difficult. On the one hand we feel some responsibility to reassure and to try to help bring some stability. On the other hand, we are uncertain ourselves, as are the leadership within the organisations we work for, so the reality is, right now we may find we have little we can communicate about with any great certainty.
The question arises because as any good internal comms practitioner knows – the role of internal communications is not just relaying information from one part of the business to the other. Good internal comms is about creating buy-in and confidence in the organisation, its goals and its leadership. It plays a crucial role in driving and embedding change, creating a satisfied, loyal and productive workforce and resolving conflict. It also provides a very useful tool in countering the types of threat that uncertainty brings.
For many organisations right now the thing that is causing the most uncertainty and anxiety is of course Brexit. With less than 6 months to go and still no clear idea of what the post Brexit world will look like, there is a real sense of unease especially for those working for UK based organisations. There is a sense of a communal holding of breath as we all await the outcome of the negotiations. For workers from the EU there is of course the uncertainty around their ability to remain here and anecdotal evidence indicates many are considering their options. The uncertainty is not just restricted to those from the EU however. We are all constantly bombarded with warnings about the consequences of the wrong deal or no deal. Car manufacturers shutting up shop, banks moving to the continent, house prices plummeting, food shortages, huge lines at customs etc. etc.
The tendency is to feel that if you don’t have anything definite to communicate then you shouldn’t communicate at all. In fact, this is probably the worst thing you can do. Silence creates even greater uncertainly and enables gossip and rumour to fill the vacuum.
So, what should your communications strategy be? There is no single answer to this as the situation for each organisation will be unique however here are a few tips to help your thinking:
Say what you can say.
In the case of Brexit this could be about communicating around the contingency planning that is going on within the organisation for the different scenarios that we face. Clearly there will be things you cannot say; however, it is important that employees see that the leadership is thinking ahead.
Face to face is important
Make the space for one-to-ones, townhalls, office get togethers. Give people the time and space to ask questions and see how business leaders respond.
Tell people what they can expect to hear, and when.
Where possible tell people when information will be available. But be careful not to make false promises.
Think about who people are, as well as what they do.
We still tend to segment audiences based on rank or function. It is worth taking the time to develop proper personas based on circumstance, situation and behavior as well as title or team.
Most people can tell when they are being lied to or even just not being quite told the whole truth. Once trust is broken it is very difficult to get back. Most employees will understand that an organization often doesn’t have all the answers, but they will want to know that they are working hard to find them.
Want to hear how LCY and ECS Digital are managing their internal communications? Bright is hosting an event on 30th October entitled “Bringing employees on your digital transformation journey” and featuring first-hand insight from Information Age Business Leader of the Year, Alison Fitzgerald. If you are interested in attending please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.