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Belfast Telegraph

COVID Communication lessons

We seem to be living in the era of the slogan - something that we have inherited from politics. I’m sure everyone remembers the slogan from last US presidential race - ‘Make America Great Again’. And before that it was ‘Yes, we Can’.  The UK, too, has embraced the use of the slogan to communicate – remember when it was all about ‘Getting Brexit done’?

With the Corona-virus pandemic, the need for communications was heightened. At a national level, we have all seen the impact that simple and consistent messaging can achieve. The ‘Stay at home’ message was clear, and was repeated consistently – which made it understood by all. It was only when this message started to get diluted that confusion set in. Not only was the messaging, at a UK and devolved government level mixed, but the categorisation of those messages was perceived as bewildering. The general public understand what a law is, what mandatory is. It is only when ‘suggestions’ are made, or recommendations or guidance is offered, that people don’t know how to respond – is this enforceable, or is it optional?

What learning can we take from the COVID messaging, and how can we use those lessons in communication to help us in our corporate communications in the future? As with any other change, we must recognise the importance of effective communication in leading people through change, and the power of effective communication to bring people with us (or not).

A lesson we can glean from the past six months is this - keep messaging consistent, clear, and easy to understand. Repeat, repeat, repeat. We have to hear the same message over and over again before we accept it, and act on it.

As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, ways of working are shifting again, with more businesses moving back to the office. However, some employees will be less willing than others to make this shift. We can often forget that for communication to be effective, it needs to be two-way. So, listen to the feelings and needs of your people, and respond in a way that is transparent and honest.

Don’t assume that everyone’s lock down experience was the same as yours, or that your concerns are the same as theirs. By listening to understand, you can tailor the message to your audience.  At this opportune time, ask your teams for feedback on how you are doing in terms of change management and communications. And then use those insights to inform both the content and the tone of your corporate communications. Make your improvements now, as we are likely to be in this for long haul and getting that messaging right is very important.