Opinion: Communicate, communicate, communicate… driving productivity as we swap VUCA for BANU

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AT the start of Ireland’s lockdown in March the scale of the Covid-19 disaster was very quickly evident, writes Alan Tyrrell. Economic shutdown, physical distancing among people, health-service ramifications and, most importantly, the significant human health impact.

Quickly though, things evolved, and we moved from a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) to a world of rapid adaptation to new ways of doing business as new usual (BANU).  

We went from teams of one stuck in our rooms, at the kitchen table, or anywhere we could find some splendid isolation, to working effectively as one through Teams thanks to Microsoft’s speedy repurposing of that application.

And now we are in a new era where productivity is no longer defined by presence and where flexibility is a boost for productivity. What has remained constant in the pandemic is the vital role of communication as the glue that holds society together. 

In business too, the companies who have thrived during Covid have followed some tried and trusted principles of communication. 

Always Be Communicating

Adapting a line from the great Glengarry Glen Ross, follow the ABC mantra.  ‘Always Be Communicating’.  While this was important at the start, it’s even more important now as we adjust to the new reality of flexible working arrangements, economic headwinds, and changed behaviors. Businesses and business leaders must recognize that their words and their behaviors continue to be under the microscope so make sure that every word and every action counts. 

Communicate using the Four Cs

Context is everything for successful communication. Where your audience is, how they are feeling, and the general circumstances of their lives all impact their ability to process your message.

Clarity is key to quality communication and, yet, is so often missing.  Communication to customers, employees or partners that provide words, but no direction, or worse, words that conflict, leads to confusion, disengagement, and dissension. 

Consistency in timing, tone, and format makes it easier for people to respond to your message. So, keep it regular, keep it simple, say it often, and say it with empathy.

Control of your message is also crucial. Don’t allow curveball questions to throw you and don’t speculate on the unknowns. Be clear on what you want the audience to understand – your key message. Then communicate that key message and press repeat if the audience is not clear on what you mean. 

Purpose, mission, vision, and values step up and dominate

Organizations with a clear framework based on purpose, mission, vision and values, and who bring these to life day-in and day-out over the long run will be the ones to come through this with reputations intact. If you don’t have purpose, mission, vision and values, it’s not too late to get them. But, make them real and relevant to your organization, not just for the moment we are in right now.

Know your core narrative and stick to it 

Great organizations have great stories. Stories that resonate and stories that are memorable. This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens because these organizations have taken the time and effort to find the golden thread that stitches their organization together. That golden thread is the core narrative.

Centralize what’s necessary; delegate what’s possible

In comms terms and leadership terms, the old command and control model is invalid. With the above steps in place, the organization needs to only centralize the decision making and key message creation. It must then delegate the authority to implement the decisions and communicate the message up and down the line throughout the organization. This means empowering employees to live the values and deliver the service, the goods, and the message in every step of the customer experience. And it requires clear and functioning two-way escalation paths so that mistakes are caught early and fixed.

Predict, prepare, and respond

This disaster, like every disaster or crisis, occurred rapidly and has had a massive impact on your organization. It was never on your risk register. But, as we move from VUCA to BANU, planning now for how your organization will behave in the recovery is the most important prerequisite to your future success. Using scenario planning and wargaming to predict the next round of your unique business cycle is vital so that you can prepare your business and your communication to be ready to respond rather than scrambling for fig leaves at the next outbreak. 

As we move deeper into BANU one thing is crystal clear – all stakeholders – government, shareholders, consumers, competitors, regulators and others – will remember how your business behaved during this disaster. So, planning for the future does not mean that you magically find some new purpose to your business, or that you suddenly display a faux emotion that is untrue to your brand values.  

In contrast, now is the time for your brand to simply live up to its purpose, show relevant leadership, behave in line with your values and, most importantly, to communicate, communicate, communicate.