The Scotsman

How do we com­mu­ni­cate in the new nor­mal?

- Com­ment Julie Mouls­dale Banking · RBS Securities · Royal Bank of Scotland · The Royal Bank of Scotland · Bank of Scotland · Thermo Fisher · Fisher Scientific International Incorporated

Aglobal pan­demic, a loom­ing re­ces­sion, and a con­stantly shift­ing new nor­mal – what could pos­si­bly go wrong? In the face of such un­cer­tainty, there is a clam­our for con­trol and clar­ity. One of the few things in our con­trol and that can help pro­vide clar­ity is how we com­mu­ni­cate, whether with em­ploy­ees, cus­tomers, sup­pli­ers, part­ners and key stake­hold­ers. As a pro­fes­sional com­mu­ni­ca­tor with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence this is al­ways close to my heart, but never more so than now, when good or bad com­mu­ni­ca­tion could make or break an or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Over the last three decades I have helped de­velop in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gies sup­port­ing many or­gan­i­sa­tional changes and chal­lenges. This in­cludes the in­te­gra­tion of Natwest and

Royal Bank of Scot­land, in­volv­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­struc­tur­ing to manag­ing high-pro­file and very pub­lic crises. Hav­ing been in­volved in dozens of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive change sit­u­a­tions, I have learnt a lot, and while it’s al­ways great to be suc­cess­ful, it’s when the wheels have come off that I have learned more. So what can go wrong? At a time of sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge or cri­sis, it is easy to get sucked into that par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion.

At the mo­ment Covid is all-con­sum­ing, so this is very un­der­stand­able. It is also still im­por­tant to keep the wider vi­sion and ob­jec­tives in per­spec­tive. For ex­am­ple, if changes need to be made, what is the aim from an or­gan­i­sa­tional per­spec­tive? To pro­tect its long-term fu­ture in the face of the eco­nomic chal­lenges as a re­sult of Covid?

This sounds ex­tremely ob­vi­ous, but some­times the wider vi­sion and strate­gic ben­e­fits of change are missed from com­mu­ni­ca­tions, with the cur­rent chal­lenge be­ing pre­sented as the main is­sue in iso­la­tion from other key fac­tors. At the core of ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and strong rep­u­ta­tions is trust, and with­out it your mes­sage will never land well. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions I have wit­nessed a sense of mis­trust in the man­age­ment team from the shopfloor.

Par­tic­u­larly in emo­tion­ally charged sit­u­a­tions, this is driven by a gap in in­for­ma­tion, usu­ally filled with ru­mour and spec­u­la­tion. Where there is a com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap it is hu­man na­ture to fill this. Em­ploy­ees some­times as­sume lead­er­ship teams have all the an­swers but are not shar­ing this. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, es­pe­cially in un­cer­tain times, of­ten the in­for­ma­tion is sim­ply not avail­able. It takes a very hon­est and se­cure leader to share openly that they don’t have all the an­swers when staff crave cer­tainty, but this goes a long way to build­ing trust. A re­cent poll we un­der­took on Linkedin showed that the most com­mon com­plaint about com­mu­ni­ca­tions in this con­text was un­clear/con­fused mes­sag­ing. This sim­ply adds to un­cer­tainty, yet with care­ful plan­ning and con­sid­er­a­tion of the what and the how to com­mu­ni­cate, it is pos­si­ble to share even the most com­plex mes­sages ef­fec­tively. Face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­tion may not al­ways be pos­si­ble. Video con­fer­enc­ing can never re­place be­ing in the same room, but it is a pretty good al­ter­na­tive. If the mes­sage is com­plex, it would al­ways be help­ful to fol­low this up with a fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and tools like video can help clar­ify in­for­ma­tion. For ex­am­ple, one of our clients re­cently wanted to share clear health and safety ex­pec­ta­tions in ad­vance of re­turn­ing to a con­struc­tion site. We worked with them to achieve this via a short video that con­veyed the key mes­sages clearly. Par­tic­u­larly in in­tense sit­u­a­tions, it is hard to re­main dis­pas­sion­ate and some­times it is dif­fi­cult to ap­pre­ci­ate the wide range of likely views. This is where an in­de­pen­dent per­spec­tive can help in bring­ing clar­ity and ob­jec­tiv­ity to com­mu­ni­cat­ing ef­fec­tively.

We will be shar­ing in­sights on ef­fec­tive change com­mu­ni­ca­tion plus lessons learned in our free we­bi­nar from 1 to 2pm on 24 Sep - tem­ber in con­junc­tion with IBIOIC and Homes for Scot­land. Pan­el­lists in­clude rep­re­sen­ta­tives from IBIOIC, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Amici Pro­cure­ment.

Julie Mouls­dale, manag­ing di­rec­tor, Per­cep­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tors

Some­times the wider vi­sion and strate­gic ben­e­fits of change are

missed

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