Communicating during rapid change

How the Olympics taught me to communicate well when things move quickly.

Good communication is crucial for organisations to function effectively.

However, as organisations grow and evolve, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep everyone informed. People and teams become spread out, focusing more on their own objectives and performance measures than the overall strategy and direction.

Change may also come with a faster pace. This could be due to a new opportunity in the market, a shift in strategy, increased competition or, in the case of the Olympics, a looming deadline!

It’s difficult to know if the right people always have the right information. (I’m talking primarily about staff, but this applies just as much to your external stakeholders.) But there are ways to keep things on the right track.

Based on insight from my time at London 2012 – which as you might imagine was fast paced from start to finish – and the years I’ve spent working in internal communications before and since then, I would suggest the following:

  • Make sure you can communicate instantly when you need to. When there’s breaking news, whether that’s coming from an internal or external source, make sure you have channels that allow you to respond straight away. If you wait for a regular communication ‘slot’, people will be left wondering what the truth is and filling in the gaps for themselves.
  • Make it clear why the change is happening. It may be obvious to leaders, but if nobody else gets it then you won’t have their belief or full commitment. Go back to basics if necessary.

  • Improve visibility between different areas of the business. Silos form incredibly quickly inside organisations, which people may not realise has happened until it causes frustrations or different versions of the truth. Help people to see what other teams are doing by sharing updates and creating opportunities for people to collaborate, debate and create.
  • Human connection is key. You could call it internal networking or just socialising. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us it’s that we all need connection. We need to be able to interact with each other outside the constraints of ‘getting work done’. Relaxed conversation and connection is more rewarding and creates better working relationships. Remember after-work drinks and away days? They need to make a comeback.
  • Reassurance from leaders. Even the most hardened advocates of an organisation or cause need reassurance that their efforts aren’t in vain. Regular, brief updates from leaders about key milestones, achievements, challenges and decisions go a long way in helping people to feel that things are in hand. Updates can be short, and they don’t always need to come from the most senior person.
  • Don’t forget the fairy dust. I talk about this a lot. Nobody works just for the money. Some may say they do, but ultimately, we’re all human and we need to feel needed and valued. Share feelgood stories that demonstrate the good the organisation is doing and help people believe in the change. Creating goose-bump moments isn’t always as easy as you’d think (that’s why you have communications teams to deliver them), but it is always worth it.
  • A good induction helps everyone to hit the ground running. Inductions are usually managed by HR. However, by collaborating with the communications function you ensure that all new starters get an overview of the strategy and direction, vision and values, any latest milestones or announcements and an explanation of the main communication channels. And when I say it helps everyone, I mean everyone. There’s no reason an induction should be exclusive to new joiners.

Hopefully this gives you a good starting point.

You may also have noticed that many of these suggestions will help to create a better external reputation: being responsive to issues, having one version of the truth, forming meaningful connections with stakeholders, providing regular updates from leaders and reminding people of the good you’re doing. Reputation should be carefully considered and managed throughout times of rapid change.

If you want to get your communications in order and need a sounding board, please email me at Jo@Jamity.co.uk.

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