The old tin-can method of communication. Two simple cans and a piece of string – a sender, a receiver and a medium of communication.

If only it were that simple! Outside the tin cans and string, there is so much more involved, especially in a corporate environment and with all the baggage that comes with it.

There’s the sender who needs to send the right message at the right time, in a manner that can be understood.

A receiver, who needs to be willing to listen, to clarify, to provide feedback and also be empowered to act.

Then the medium, or the means of communication, must allow the necessary information to be transmitted and received.

At the same time, we also need an alternate means of communication just in case the line is cut as well as a team of users who are trained, practiced and willing to act accordingly.

Essentially, this comes from trust and experience. Trust the receiver will act and the sender will transmit the message appropriately. Trust the messages are accurate and appropriate and the corporate experience developed over time will enable the team to resolve issues quickly.

In dealing with an emergency or the long-term impact of a crisis, we’ve seen time and time again that proactive and transparent communications takes the pressure off decision makers and enables a better response.

We reviewed more than thirty organisations to look at the speed and accuracy of corporate response to COVID-19 and the impact of that response on organisational health.

In our sixth COVID insights, we look at how optimised organisations develop proactive and transparent communication systems.

These statements can be directly attributed to optimised organisations who have demonstrated consistent results when practicing their organisational responses.

Optimised organisations:

Fought to establish, receive and send approved information – they had the means and the willingness to act.

Encouraged collaboration and empowered decision making.

Understood the impact of communications, the power of messaging and the importance of receiving as much as the providing of information.

Identified stakeholders early and communicated with them immediately and at required intervals, including local community members and local employees.

Spent significant time in training and practicing emergency and crisis management responses which was clearly evident when it came time to respond to the COVID 19 crisis.

Proactive Organisations:

We saw proactive organisations do much of the same as the optimised organisations, however the difference was in the response time and confidence in the communication medium. We noticed the following:

Although they fought hard to get information and there was empowered decision making, it was not demonstrated across all levels. In many instances, leaders, teams and business units waited for direction from the top, which was not forthcoming at the speed and level required. This could also reflect the size of various organisations and the processes they utilised.

Size does matter. Without consistent, accurate and detailed practice, the bigger organisations failed in some areas to empower appropriate decision making across all levels.

Time also matters. Proactive organisations identified stakeholders early but there were delays in contacting them and establishing trusted channels of communication.

Who also matters. In proactive organisations, we saw senior members of the organisation were engaged early whilst more junior members had to be prompted to act and there were difficulties in obtaining information from them.
• Trust and confidence come from experience and in this case, there was not enough practice to guarantee rapid and comprehensive communication across all levels.

Reactive Organisations:

We saw reactive organisations struggle with their COVID communications:

With management control centralised to just one or a handful of people, these organisations did not communicate clearly to their workforce and stakeholders.

Reactive organsiations lacked sufficient information and failed to explore all possible courses of action before committing to a plan.

When lacking the full picture, reactive organisations did not fully appreciate the impact of business disruption on their workforce, their suppliers and their customers.

Because they lacked a proactive and transparent decision making methodology, reactive organisations wasted critical time discussing current events and the unfolding situation and failed to identify what effect that would have on the business and stakeholders.

Although some reactive organisations have weathered the initial disruption of COVID-19, they continue to struggle as they have yet to optimise their crisis management structure and they continue to operate with a centralised management system which fails to empower communication across all levels.

Our hypothesis all along, has been proactive and transparent communications takes the pressure off key decision makers, giving access to the necessary information to make the best possible decisions in a timely manner.

Information is power and if not shared, that power is wasted. Optimised organisations recognise this and practice and empower their people across all levels.

Going back to our first point, in an optimised organisation, the tin cans are the most appropriate for the business. The message and the language is clear and the string is kept tight, clean, checked and maintained, with the lines of communication open both up and down the string.

The string itself reflects a network rather than a one-way channel. It inspires courage and confidence. Optimised organisations fight to establish and maintain communications and make sure they are reaching out to all stakeholders to ensure enough information at hand to make the decisions necessary to lead their organisation on this uncertain path toward COVID 19 recovery.

Has your COVID response been up to scratch? Contact us to discuss your organisation.

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