- The changes forced on businesses by COVID-19 are placing greater emphasis on internal communications.
- This is requiring external communicators to turn their attention inwards but this change requires a shift in perspective.
- We’ve outlined five considerations that external communicators need to have in mind when making this shift to ensure they are communicating with those who matter most effectively.
Many are finding their world has been turned upsides down by COVID-19. Whether it’s trying to adapt to working from home while also schooling your kids in the same room, or finding out that your work in the grocery store is classed as high-risk. Businesses are also finding out that change is necessary as they adapt to the market, financial, and supply-chain pressures COVID-19 is generating.
At Kith, we’ve been busy with businesses all over the country since the start of the pandemic, advising clients, lending an ear to those who need advice, and running our weekly webinars to share whatever knowledge we can.
One take-away is that there is uncertainty in every sector and everyone is struggling to adapt. This places greater emphasis on internal communications which, for many, means having your external communications team switch focus to inside the organization.
We recently wrote about the difficulties internal communicators face when having to adapt to an external market and the reverse is also true. While the skills are the same, the considerations for internal communications are different. There will be many challenges arising from changing from external to internal but, for me, these five will present the most significant hurdles.
First, you need to get to know your stakeholders. This isn’t news to any communicator, but unlike an external audience that changes rapidly and is always at arm’s-length, your stakeholders are now your co-workers and colleagues. These are the people you email every day, see on video calls, and shared the water cooler with until a few weeks ago. They expect you to know them and know then well. Generalities that might work with a large public audience will sound tone-deaf internally.
Second, you need to learn who the firm’s opinion-formers and thought-leaders are quickly. And don’t think that these are just the executives: team leaders, union representatives, and regional managers will often hold as much sway as members of the C-suite, sometimes more. Think about how you will engage with them.
Third, you need to get used to getting fast, direct feedback on the decisions you’re communicating. Unlike an external audience, everyone in-house has your email address and phone number, so be prepared to get feedback and quickly. You also need to work out in advance how you will deal with this. You can’t just leave emails unanswered, but can you really manage one-on-one discussions with dozens of staff after a big announcement?
This ties into the fourth point which is to get ready to work at a faster tempo because the cycle between decision and reaction is very short. At Kith, we believe that speed is a significant positive and you will now be able to test, adjust, and re-test messages much more quickly than you are used to with an external audience. However, this is a much faster pace than you are used to, so you’ll have to adjust your processes to match this tempo.
Finally, you need to prepare for these to be much more personal conversations. Announcing lay-offs, consoling staff who have lost team members, or explaining why the firm is having to shelve a much-anticipated initiative is going to have a direct and immediate impact on your peers and colleagues. Some of these decisions are also going to affect you. Therefore, you need to prepare for a much more personal, intimate type of conversation that you have with a general audience.
Today, we all need to be more effective, empathetic, and thoughtful in our communications with our staff than at any other time since the 2008 financial crisis. For many communicators, coupling the pressures of sharing difficult messages with the frustration of not communicating face-to-face will make this the biggest challenge of their careers.
We can’t help alleviate all of these difficulties, but I hope that the points above will help you switch from an external focus to an internal one to help your organization tells its story to those who matter most right now: your people.
Don’t forget our weekly webinars, dedicated to helping communicators tackle the challenges of COVID-19. We tackle subjects like this and are continually updating our advice on what’s working and what isn’t.