communication

After the fires: 7 communication tips to help workplaces start the year

A three-part series on communication actions organisations can take now during the response and recovery phases of the Australian fire catastrophe. 

The essentials:

As those workplaces that closed over Christmas and New Year reopen after the break, a few simple internal communication actions will help both the operational and human responses to the current Australian fire catastrophe. The most effective employee communication responses will:

  • Acknowledge clearly any known employee, supplier and customer impacts.
  • Provide up to date operational and policy information, commit to an ongoing process and provide a ‘single source of truth’ for information.
  • Allow for a human response to the situation, and provide resources. For many, this was not a typical break – expect this to be a talking point.
  • Incorporate a feedback channel, along with a process for asking questions and providing prompt consistent responses.
  • Proactively and clearly share any policies and processes for volunteer leave, employees impacted by travel or health arrangements (for example smoke), requests for group fundraising, matched donations or other community engagement. 
  • Recognise that the scale of the situation means that even people not directly impacted may have family or friends who were. 
  • Reinforce the key requests of organisations for donations or support activities (such as encouraging fundraising over donation of goods unless directly sought by an organisation – work with the peak bodies for this).

The long version:

While a great many businesses remain open throughout the Christmas holidays, this is still the peak holiday time for many Australians. The 6th of January will see many people returning to work for the first time since the Christmas break, and will be the first time that many people are coming back into the workplace. It has been an extraordinary summer due to the extended fire emergency across States within Australia, and workplaces will need to take some measures to communicate about this.

Many large organisations, particularly those with workforces in areas affected will already have had to enact business continuity plans over the Christmas break due to some of the disruptions caused by the emergency, either for customers, or suppliers or employees impacted. Banks, telcos and utilities have already communicated with employees and customers.

And many communications teams would have been operational over the break ensuring that employees are kept up to date about operational risks and customer or client impacts. Some organisations also have employees who are volunteers in some capacity and so will have already been managing this. Many businesses have been managing communication as the need has arisen over the past 100 days of fires, but the scale and nature of the impacts over the past weeks have made an impact on all Australians. 

What to do…

For those organisations who have not yet had to manage any direct impacts, there are some key things to manage and communicate with employees as they resume operations this week.

Context

The scale and nature of the events of the past few weeks mean that many people have either first-hand experience of the impacts of the fires or directly know someone who has. 

  • Has your organisation been directly impacted?
  • Is your organisation doing things specifically to support the response or recovery?
  • Do you have employees who have been directly affected?
  • How does your organisation already communicate about issues and emergencies?
  • Are roles clear and information consistent already, and if not, how will this be done? 

These questions will inform what actions are required as well as who within the organisation will need to be involved prior to communication.

Outcomes

Even in response to a crisis, it’s essential to be clear of the outcomes of your communication activities. Three outcomes that would be helpful at this time are:

Build or strengthen capability. Increase readiness for any escalation or additional impacts by using/reinforcing your effective catastrophe or crisis communication approaches. The best time to have a plan in place is before you need it, but this is an opportunity to build the capability as it is required. 

Effective, simple operational information. Whether it’s simply providing information about Volunteering Leave and Health and Safety or detailed information on things your business or organisation is doing to support or in response to the impacts of the fires. 

Recognise and incorporate employee response. Being prepared for an understandable range of reactions to the situation and incorporating opportunities for involvement, discussion and support will reduce confusion, concern and allow employees to have their needs addressed.   

Messages

Each organisation will have different specific messages according to the context, the industry, the geography and a range of other factors, but these are essential:

  • Acknowledgement that this has been an exceptional time – even if the organisation is not directly impacted.
  • What, if any, are the impacts?
  • What does this mean for today and the short term?
  • What help is available to employees and customers.
  • Specific proactive information about leave, employee support, process or customer changes. 
  • How employees can help.
  • How information will continue to be shared.

More broadly, messages will need to be authentic to the tone and style of leaders and managers

Methods

Commit to providing ongoing regular information and provide any updates promptly.

If your organisation is impacted, face to face or video stream is a preferred way of consistently getting the initial messages across, backed up by the other effective channels* in your organisation. 

Use your most effective channels for push messages. If yours is an email organisation, use that. It may be a messaging platform, text or digital signage.

Have a single source of information. Whether you use an intranet, shared drives, internal social media, or a notice board in the break room, choose one place as the single source for information and keep it current. 

If your organisation has internal social media such as slack, yammer, or workplace consider using two dedicated threads or hashtags: one for operational information, policy, process and questions, and; one for general discussion. Doing so allows for a single source of essentials while factoring in the reality of how people are likely to interact.

* It helps to know what channels work within your organisation ahead of a crisis. There is not a magic formula for this as there are significant differences according to size, nature of work, nature of industry, nature of the workforce. Contact the author for more on this. 

Support

To support this consistent approach:

  • Delay non-essential communication. People will not have the bandwidth this week. 
  • Provide extra time and resources to ensure managers can have face time with their direct reports. 
  • Schedule a talk time. This could be combined with a fundraising activity or more organic. Depending on the size of your organisation, it might be possible for everyone to gather, or it might be of a scale where teams need to meet individually. 
  • Provide Employee Assistance Program links.
  • Empower teams to determine how and where support, volunteering or fundraising is offered. Everyone is different and while crisis brings a strong sense of community, there will be different ideas about how and who to support. Factor this into any organisational arrangements early and allow for choice. 

Lastly, this week is also not the time for overt promotion of the organisation’s efforts. Do the things that matter. Communicate regularly and factually. Provide opportunities for people to talk informally and let that flow into constructive contribution.

This is the first in a series of posts to help organisations communicate effectively during the response and recovery phases of this catastrophe. The next post will include more detailed steps for organisations that don’t have a communication team, and the final post will cover ways for communication and leadership teams to manage the ongoing and future situations. 

For additional information or support, please get in touch

Jonathan Champ SCMP is a communication advisor with 25 years experience across a range of sectors. He is the founder of Meaning Business and creator of the COMMS planning method. 

Thanks to Craig Spencer, General Manager Strategy and Performance at Royal Flying Doctor Service (WA) and Jenni Field, Director Redefining Communication for their contribution to the development of this article.

Why I’m shitposting about #scottyfrommarketing while Australia burns

Friends and colleagues, you probably wonder if I’ve taken leave from my senses for the last few weeks. Not those of you dealing with the day to day of the fire emergencies across Australia: I hope you’re ignoring me and getting on with the practical things and staying safe. 

First, I am not living in an area directly impacted by anything other than some smoke and stories from people I know who know people who have had losses – of property, of animals, and in one case, their neighbour’s life. I am this writing from a place of privilege and fortune and as I do my thoughts are with each community affected, those whose losses are real and painful, and with those working to help others in every capacity. 

Where possible, with colleagues, friends and family spread wide, I am attempting to amplify useful information, knowing that at times like this, people directly impacted are listening to their local news, their local authorities, the RFS or CFA or CFS according to state:

http://bit.ly/AusEmergencyWarnings

And I am following the best advice on how to practically help recovery efforts, primarily through cash donation and legitimate fundraising efforts: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-01/bushfire-relief:-how-you-can-help-frontline-services/ 

I have spent a lot of my downtime on social media being critical of, sarcastic about, and commenting on the performance of the PM during crisis. I’m not equipped to be a politician. I know my limitations. 

So why am I, a communication professional and writer, spending time piling on to the criticism directed to the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison? How does me shitposting and criticising and sharing critiques actually helping while people are still in response mode, wile flames move in, while Defence Force evacuations are occurring in communities that are in states of emergency? 

So what gives me cause to be so overtly critical? What gives me the right to mock #scottyfrommarketing and to pile on with the other critics? In my communication career, I’ve spent a lot of years helping organisations – employees and leaders, recover from bad leadership. Through communication, reputation and culture work, I have seen the residual impact on teams, divisions, departments and whole businesses when leadership has turned toxic.

Much of my communication career has been focussed on trying to help leaders and managers cut the bullshit and communicate in honest, authentic and impactful ways with the people in their organisations. Through listening, through self-awareness, through taking a constructive and humanistic approach. As a certified communication management professional, I am bound by a global standard that includes ethics and truthfulness in communication practice. 

And I’ve seen the damage that non-consultative, directive, ego-driven leaders who are working out their own psychological issues in a way that impacts dozens or hundreds or thousands of employees. 

I’m self-aware enough to know I do not have the disposition, the diplomacy, or the skill to be a politician. But I do know what genuine leadership looks like. What we are seeing from ScoMo to all appearances is a fabrication. 

If during his time as a marketer, Scotty was doing his job, he would have a strong awareness of sentiment. He recently claimed he’s not going to make policy decisions on the back of what people have to say on Twitter. But you can guarantee his team is using every social media analytical tool at their disposal to understand how the tide is turning. At the moment, the responses are crude and rudimentary: attempting to shift the rhetoric and messaging without having to concede policy shifts from the entrenched party positions on coal, climate, cost-shifting emergency response from Federal to State jurisdiction.

And that’s why I am using the critical hashtags and tagging both the Facebook and Twitter accounts for the PM. He shattered his own illusion of not being swayed by public opinion when he chimed in about the firefighter who said ‘he’s not my PM’ being taken out of context. That was enough for him to jump on Twitter to tell his side of the story. It also showed that the messages are getting through from every Quiet Australian who has decided this is not the time to be quiet. Perhaps at some point, through an FOI request, or during a Royal Commission or some other form of inquiry into the responses to this catastrophic season, or when this year’s Cabinet papers are released in 20 years, the effort to monitor and to willfully ignore the views of Australians will be apparent. 

The sentiment is shifting. Other conservatives are finding these positions untenable and unsustainable. When the FT is calling for your head, the markets listen. I’ve said elsewhere in response to the Machinery of Government changes #scottyfrommarketing rushed through in order to beat the Thodey report into the public service that if he was the CEO of a listed company, Morrison’s decision-making would be called into question. 

That was prior to the even more ramshackle and reputationally destructive performance of the last few weeks. Any commercial Board would be assembling their Risk committee and making serious deliberations about the viability of the CEO. Australia deserves better, and despite the banal reassurances of our Chief Marketing Officer, Australia can more than one conversation at a time. Now is not the time for the people in response and recovery mode to be focussed on ineffective leadership but on the survival tasks at hand. But that is no reason for the rest of us, from our privileged positions of safety to not demand more of the leaders who are failing their constituents. 

Okay, now I am ranting. Back to leadership skills. Even the most sociopathic leaders can in the right circumstances be swayed by the things that their minders won’t say to them. 

“When you say ‘we’ all the time, you come across as not taking responsibility”

“You can’t talk your way out of this, you need to show some humility”

“I know you think you are demonstrating strength, but unless you can do it without that grin, you just look smugger”

“You might be hard-wired to deflect and not say ‘I don’t know’ but every time you run the same key message past people without answering the question – even if the answer is ‘you don’t know’, you’re damaging your credibility further.”

“People hate you right now and that’s not some kind of test of wills… unless you rapidly learn to genuinely listen, and not just fake it, you’re going to destroy not only your credibility but also that of the leadership team…”

“You need to understand it’s not about you and what you want to say”

They are paraphrased examples of real feedback that has been impactful with managers and executives in the public and private sector, giving them a moment when they have realised their impact isn’t what they hope it to be.

Scotty would like us to think he doesn’t know – or that he knows best – but let’s make sure he gets some feedback:

www.twitter.com/ScottMorrisonMP

https://www.facebook.com/scottmorrison4cook/

https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm

https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Parliamentarian?MPID=E3L

The stories of those with the experience at the front need to be heard – not just nodded at but heard by those in power. The stories of kids who have been afraid of the smoke, or who don’t understand why other people are frightened should move compassionate, capable people. There is wisdom and hope and the real community spirit in those stories. 

We deserve leaders who are capable of paying attention to those stories and adapting instead of pushing their own narrative. 

Disclosure: I have worked as a communication consultant for a number of state and federal government departments and agencies. I am not a member of any political party.

#commsbingo – Conference Edition

It’s comms conference season, and that means the internet will be abuzz with 140 character insights from a range of events.

There are exciting – and challenging – emerging trends and new insights. We will see that in abundance at the excellent #IABC16 this week as the worlds leading communication membership association gathers around the theme of innovating global communication.

When you have been fortunate to have attended, chaired, co-curated and presented at a fair range of communication conferences and events*, you do start to see patterns in terms of insights and learnings. These recurring insights form a kind of communicators BINGO!

commsbingo600

#commsbingo

If we are to judge the progress of our profession by the wisdom shared on twitter from many comms events, then it seems we are caught in a loop. Yes, communication events do attract emerging practitioners. But seeing foundation knowledge shared as revelations does raise some questions about how effectively we are preparing communicators for professional practice.

If we are to continue to develop, to grow our collective commons and body of knowledge, we need to keep pushing for deeper insights, evolve our discussions and move beyond the foundations through research, education and creating connection.

Oh, and if you have any other #commsbingo insights, please tweet them so we can collate the common knowledge.

Share well!

*I have been a past chair and co-curator of Melcrum Strategic Communication & Digital Communication Summits in Asia Pacific, presented at the 2014 IABC WC in Toronto, and have been involved in communication professional development since before twitter was invented. Learn more about the Shorter COMMS Plan in this free webinar.

Get the foundations right for 2015

How many times have you heard “I can’t believe it is December already!” from colleagues or family lately?

The end of the calendar year provokes responses ranging from shock at the speed of time passing, through to satisfaction at the achievements of the year, to mild panic as people look to their plans for 2014 and realise what is missing.

For communicators, December is a time to be able to reflect on the achievements of the waning year, while setting up for success in 2015.

Capture knowledge from the year

  • Take time to capture the lessons, issues and achievements of the year. If you already have a reporting process, pull out the highlights.
  • If communication projects didn’t have a formal post-implementation review, take time to capture successes and the areas that needed improvement.
  • Consider an annual ‘communication report’ to key stakeholders.
  • Consider whether to seek recognition for quality work. The IABC Gold Quills are open for entries until 7 January.*

Plan for the year ahead

  • Understand the priorities for the businesses, teams and clients you support for 2015.
  • If they do not have clear plans yet, use the opportunity to schedule communication planning sessions with your key stakeholders.
  • Determine how to address any gaps or improvements from past communication projects.

Prepare yourself

  • Take time to assess your capabilities based on what was achieved and what will happen in the year ahead.
  • Plan development options such as participating in professional associations, seeking coaching or undertaking skills training to fill any gaps.

Keeping plans simple

The pace of change in organisations requires us to be adaptive. Plans change, often. Focus on tools and processes that enable flexibility, that are simple to use. Using a common approach across your organisation builds skill and consistency. The Shorter COMMS Plan is a simple methodology to support better outcomes from all types of communication; whether small projects, business planning or team management. A new one-day workshop designed to help apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is being held in Sydney on 4 February.

New Workshop to apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is now available.

New Workshop to apply the Shorter COMMS Plan is now available.

 

* Disclosure: I am Co-Chair of the Gold Quill Blue Ribbon Panel for Asia Pacific.

 

 

Social Media Club Fail and the perils of scheduled tweets #SMClub

Update: Following the publication of my article, there was formal contact from Social Media Club apologising for the post and acknowledging that appropriate action would be taken, and the original post by Audrey Rochas has been removed from their site

12 hours after the original contact, Social Media Club have apologised and removed the original post by Audrey Rochas

12 hours after the original contact, Social Media Club have apologised and removed the original post by Audrey Rochas

 

Earlier today, the scheduled tweets of the Social Media Club, a loosely organised social media promotion organisation, posted the following tweet:

The offending tweet from @socialmediaclub

The offending tweet from @socialmediaclub

As a communicator, I am interested in community management, effective use of social tools such as Twitter to build awareness and drive engagement.

As a human, I am also interested in social good, including mental health. I have family members who have experienced a range of long and short term mental illnesses, have lost extended family and friends to suicide and my partner works in mental health education. It’s kind of a vested interest, and as such I care about representations of mental illness online, in the arts and in the workplace.

So my ire was already rising when I clicked through to the article, which perpetuates the ‘mutiple personality’ myth of schizophenia throughout. Most offensive however, was the accompanying image of the ‘angel and demon’.

The offending imagery attached to Social Media Club post

The offending imagery attached to Social Media Club post

There is a long history of equating mad with bad, which goes a long way to contributing to the lack of awareness of mental illness, the perpetuation of outdated knowledge and stereotypes.

Am I overreacting? Considering Social Media Club positions itself as an organisation that promotes good online practices, and has over 150,000 followers on Twitter, and 42000 likes on Facebook, it has a substantial potential reach. As people working in communication, marketing and social media, there is a responsibility to perpetuate constructive and factual information.

If there was an editorial process for inclusion of material on the blog, it has clearly failed to pick up the tone and issues relating to the post.

Comparing to 'normal' people is only one of many issues with this post.

Comparing to ‘normal’ people is only one of many issues with this post.

 

If substantially more established communication organisations like Edelman can make errors of judgement when it comes to discussing mental illness and mental health online, it is understandable that a content engine like Social Media Club is going to struggle from time to time.

Particularly frustrating is the Social Media Club’s inability or choice not to respond effectively to the criticism. As their twitter account clearly consists of scheduled tweets, with no editorial owner, the inappropriate link is being repeatedly tweeted with slightly amended wording at regular intervals. (An earlier tip from #SMClub points out that twitter is cracking down on identically worded scheduled tweets, so they are at least following practice here.) Despite multiple attempts to contact members via twitter, the link keeps coming…

Scheduled tweets mean an inability to rectify a problem

Scheduled tweets mean an inability to rectify a problem

 

Resources for mental health awareness

For information on effective social media practices relating to mental health and mental illness, here are a range of resources that will help social media professionals and community managers.

Useful Twitter Tags for mental health resources online

http://reports.youngandwellcrc.org.au/a-better-practice-guide-for-services/appendix/twitter-mental-health-hashtags/

Mindframe Media

An Australian initiative to support positive communication of mental health and illness in media, the arts and online.

http://www.himh.org.au/home/our-programs/community-media-and-arts-program/social-media-and-suicide-prevention

US National Institute of Mental Health

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/index.shtml

Mind Charity UK

http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/minds-media-office/

Sane Australia (including Stigma Watch)

http://www.sane.org/stigmawatch

This is only a small selection; there are extensive resources available.

Watching this space…

Is my response disproportionate? Perhaps. But this is an opportunity for Social Media Club to demonstrate their degree of thought leadership and practical steps to rectifying issues online when they occur.

What an ironic place the social web can be. Only a few tweets further up their timeline is a post on managing a social media crisis. If expertise is demonstrated by actions rather than rhetoric, it will be interesting to see how Social Media Club addresses this issue.

If you are a member of Social Media Club, I encourage you to contact them through your chapter to raise awareness of this issue.

The contact details for the Board and Volunteers are here:

http://socialmediaclub.org/contact-us

Postscript: As of the time of posting, the offending site appears to be down.

 

We're not in right now...

We’re not in right now…

Insights from Strategic Communication Management Summit part 1 #scmsyd

[View the story “#scmsyd #internalcomms top tweets Part 1” on Storify]

Communication lessons from #IBMCMOStudy

View “Communication lessons from #IBMCMOStudy” on Storify

Not all stories are equal

[View the story “What’s the (corporate) story?” on Storify]

The Spring communication health check

It’s spring, the days are warmer, and things are growing! In preparation for summer,

Time for a check up...

The grass has ris...

people are back at the gym, and healing the winter lawns. Winter bodies and gardens aren’t the only thing that benefit from some care and preparation for the seasons ahead. Like all natural systems, an effective communication strategy requires time and focus to grow.

We are quickly approaching the last financial quarter for 2011. Taking time before the new year to ensure your communication system have all the levers in place will be essential to delivering the 2012 business strategy for your organisation.

Take this 30-second health check to see how prepared your communication function is for the new year.

Business performance can be improved with effective communication in your business.  As a communication leader, you need to be ahead of the curve when it comes to communicating strategy.

If any of these levers are not in place, you may not get the results you are aiming for from your communication efforts.

We have a spring special on communication health checks for small and medium size businesses. Contact us on +61 412 504 252 to discuss how this special offer can help your business, or email us via this spam-safe link http://scr.im/meanbiz.

What communication channels didn’t exist when you were born?

A brief history of all things internal communication, part 1. Channels.

A history of communication channels

What channels didnt exist when you were born?

I have started developing an interactive timeline of the history of internal communication. The finished product will include developments in organisational theory, management practice, technology and key thought leaders and their impact on communication.

Part one of the timeline includes some notable milestones in communication technology and channels. I’ve included an overlay of the birth years for boomers, gen Y and millenials.

What communication channels didn’t exist when you were born?

Are there any channels you think should be included?

Next – key management theory and practice that influenced the development of internal communication.