We need communication! The Covid-19 pandemic has created intense socio-economic conditions for leaders to operate in. Against this backdrop of fear, change, a scattered workforce, uncertainty and health concerns the importance of honest, authentic and timely communication has never been more in focus. When there are few answers the clarity of those around us, who we need to rely on is bought into sharp focus.
I hosted a Leadership Live debate on “The importance of Great Communication” with special guests Dr Joanne Rewcastle, Strategic Comms & Digital Engagement, at DWP Digital, Carol Howley, VP of Marketing & Communications at Panintelligence and Hayley Paterson, Account Manager at Scriba PR.
I have summarised a few key points below from the panel and I and the whole conversation is available to listen to on our YouTube channel here
Why is communication so important?
JR: The importance of communication that shone out last year was the importance pf trust. There was so much information everywhere, whether it was government advice, schools and other organisations. Good comms helped to cut through the noise, making it easier to understand what was happening and helping people to make sense of the situation
CH: Online communication has proven to be much more complicated and nuanced. It’s as much about listening and really listening to understand what people are going through, empathy is key. It has to be a two-way relationship to ensure we set really good foundations for communication going forward.
HP: communication has always been vital and 2020 and beyond has amplified that. For me it’s about the quality of your communication. Brand voice, customer pain points, and ensuring your employees are empowered to communicate. Leverage those employee opportunities through different mediums to show value,
Good leaders need to be effective communicators to empower the people around them, share the vision and drive the organisation forward whilst supporting and caring for their people.
Will the events of the last year change how leaders communicate in the future?
JR: I hope so. Leaders have been a lot more honest and open and sometimes how their employees have reacted to that has surprised them. Remote working has shown a more inclusive way including kids, dogs, cats, deliveries. You can’t be perfect; everyone is in the same situation.
Leaders behaviours will change as when they are open and honest, people have leaned into them more.
There is such a lot of uncertainty. We are more comfortable with comms through uncertainty now as people feel they can answer “I don’t know”.
CH: Employers and employees have had to invest a lot more time in creating those great lines of communication to build trust and openness.
Animals, kids, it’s been a really crazy time. There has been less worry about the output of people and more focus on mental health, and wellbeing. We shouldn’t change that in the future, and we should take time to protect those relationships. It is so important. Work in the best way so people can enjoy their work and be productive. Organisations should make a transition to support people in this way.
HP: There is always room for empathy, this is key to evolve your strategy in comms and people. You can’t let it drop just because we are 12 months in, and things are changing a little. Got to recharge, be flexible, be inclusive. People have their own experiences, and we have to keep the focus on that as we move forward.
From my perspective 2020 was a challenge and we often say it’s the year we became comfortable with being really uncomfortable. I have shown and seen a side of the people I work with, my peers and other organisations that I wouldn’t necessarily have seen if it wasn’t for the situation.
This has bought us closer together at a time when we are further apart physically than ever and that has to carry over into the long term. The year leaders became more human will have a far-reaching effect on how we manage, engage and get the best out of people in the future.
What’s the impact of the pandemic on longer term communication and engagement strategies?
JR: I think there will be more understanding of the fact that comms can be uncertain, you have to test, change the message and work on it to get it right.
Secondly the focus on wellbeing. The priority can’t be that we are all ok and understand the company priority, that’s not how it works. You need to be in a good state to perform and that needs to be at the top of every organisation’s agenda.
CH: Other areas of the business have really seen the value of comms, and how opening two-way comms encourages team building and collaboration.
Before we didn’t need to make as much effort but being remote makes for more focus. We need to protect the importance of clarity of message, communication and engagement.
HP: Leveraging the stuff you are good at. Your comms strategy needs to evolve all the time. I’s important to keep adding value, and to understand your customer pain points so you can support them. Don’t ever let your comms strategy stagnate. Keep asking, what are our customers asking for and can we develop that?
The power of collaboration.
Something that has struck me from the pandemic is that we feel like we have entered a world that is much more collaborative. We are all in very different organisations and certainly leaning on our network has felt like the most natural thing to do. From sharing ideas and check ins to being much more open to asking for help and collaborating.
JR: Comms are comms regardless of who you work for. We have had to find new ways to collaborate, there are no water cooler moments or chats in the kitchen. We have lost that so we have had to learn new ways to build rapport and engage
What about measuring the impact of your communication strategy?
CH: Metrics are good and there are many ways we can measure but the feedback from your team and customers is essential
Give people a voice and opportunity to contribute. Put people at the centre of your organisations mission.
HP: It can be hard to measure return on comms . Reach, coverage etc are ways but I always ask “Have you landed that really key piece which is going to get the response you are looking for?”
As leaders we have to empower from the top down that clear communication on wellbeing and honesty is essential and ok. This is a new situation for everyone and coming out the other side, if we have all become more mindful and aware of each other than that is a positive thing for leadership and organisations
How do you maintain your momentum when you are seen as beacon of positivity and engagement?
JR: This comes back to wellbeing. The situation has been hard and unsustainable. Front and centre to everything you do is wellness. If the team aren’t well, the work won’t be well.
It’s not always great and so we need to ask how we can support each other and feed off others energy.
We shifted from not communicating too much due to national priorities and mood to sharing with end service users and the wider world what we were doing to enhance service delivery and how we had scaled operationally
CH: Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability, this is a hard situation. Talk if you are struggling. Share experiences and be honest. Always ask how do we solve it and work together?
HP: You need to constantly review. What’s timely, what’s relevant, what should we hold back on, what can we leverage more
What is the key to effective communication in a nutshell?
JR: It’s about people, by people, for people. If you focus on that, you won’t go far wrong JR
CH: All communication is a 2-way street, everything from feedback to body language is part of it CH
HP: Be responsive, be human, be relatable. That’s all part of a great comms strategy
RM: Communication is paramount to make people feel safe and trust in their leaders.
I am hugely grateful to the panel for giving up their time to record this session.
As we continue to work our way through the impact of the pandemic and what that means for us across every aspect of our lives, we can’t afford to underestimate the power of communication, collaboration and engagement as a fundamental part of organisational strategy.