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Communicating in Transformational Change, Including Global Pandemics

Posted March 2020

A number of people I talk to blame the media for over-hyping the crisis with Covid19 and fuelling the public panic, which is demonstrated in the stores across several countries. I completely disagree – after all, a reporters job is to report – what is happening, when, where, potentially why and speak to several people to who this pertains to and obtain their different perspectives.

Personally I think it is the lack of planning and communication from several governments that has actually fuelled the ‘panic’. Covid19 is a change – it is changing the way we think of our hygiene, public interactions, work-life and private life. If it hasn’t already, it is going to change, long term, all areas of our lives. And with change, clear and concise communication is required – just pick up any book/article/blog on managing change, and that is stated multiple times. This is not new and it is not rocket science. During change, people need clear and concise communication and that involves information on the what, when where, why, who and how.

Unfortunately several Governments have not been effective in communication, particularly with Covid19. And to be fair, I think that is a lot down to the fact that even though some may have Departments to deal with emergencies like Covid19 and others, the issue is the people whose job it is to communicate this information are not aware, do not have the knowledge, ability or desire to decide on what and how to communicate. Communicating during such massive change is different to communicating typically for any political entity. Typically a political party/individual/group will communicate what they want to communicate and leave out what they don’t want. But there isn’t that kind of luxury during change – there is a requirement to communicate what you don’t and do want to communicate in transformational change. That is how you build trust and help people through the journey, as it is only then that people believe that the issues, as they see them, are being addressed. As a result, there is a calm – not a panic because they have received the information they feel they need and even in times when the answers aren’t clear, communicating that and giving a timeline when the answer will have clarity is re-assuring in itself. Theoretically most leaders know this, but this is not practiced as well as required.

It is then when there are communication gaps, people will fill the gap with their own solutions/information and that is when panic sets in. This is evident in companies as well – when the UK government was slow to information, whether for Brexit or Covid19, they put in place their own policies and plans, such as mandating working from home for either all or part of their workforce, no international or regional travel unless absolutely necessary, not inter-office travel etc. Is all of this necessary – maybe – but the point is when there is a lack of information that gap will be filled somehow.

I have been experiencing a lot of companies doing just this – giving as much information as absolutely possible, which has helped keep a good deal of people calm, from a business perspective, in the face of it, but we have not experienced this from Government, so the wider public are filling the gap with their own ideas – hence we see the shelves in super-markets empty.

So, if we really want the panic to stop, then we need to fill the gap with information that will re-assure people, with all the what, when, who, why, where and how – not just the information we want to share but the information we also don’t want to share, as that is how we help manage transformational change.

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