Many business owners are sitting in fear of what will be announced by the U.K. Prime Minister later today (Monday 12 October). People who have faced months of lockdown and uncertainty are suffering anxious moments until the fully understand what is happening to their lives.
This is a difficult time and governments face one of the most testing situations ever. I am not getting political nor am I making comment on what is or is not going to be announced. My frustration, and the reason I am writing this, comes from the way communication is taking place.
Rumour, speculation and leaks is no way to turn an effective crisis communication response. For day’s there have been media stories about the restrictions that are likely to be introduced today. Last night, people in the Liverpool region will have learnt that they are going to be the first to face some form of lockdown. They heard not from council leaders, politicians or a leadership role but from media reports.
Living in Greater Manchester I am expecting to face similar restrictions but with no clarity and just having the carrot of a Boris Johnson statement later dangled in front of me brings anxiety. Will it impact on my work? How will my life have to change again? How long will I face restrictions?
Crisis communication has some key principles and I talk about them a lot with teams. Clarity, honesty and accountability are just three of them. Why do they matter? The most important part of a crisis response is people. Effective crisis communication needs relationships to work and for trust and confidence to exist with this response.
The way things are being managed now shows no regard to those who are the most affected. A command and control approach is only acceptable for the very early stages of a crisis, very soon after that should be a move to engaging people in the response. It is a step that has not been taken in the Covid-19 pandemic. The parent and child relationship seems to have prevailed throughout.
I have been asked by fellow communicators whether it is too late to turn things around. Have things gone so far that people are disconnected, frustrated and in many cases angry with what is being ‘done to them’? My simple answer is no. It is never too late to realise that the approach is faulty, to listen to what people are saying and then change what you are doing. There is a chance to use this turbulent time with a second wave upon us to change course in the way the communication is working.
Whatever happens later today I will continue to encourage businesses and organisations to keep people and communication at the heart of their crisis response. I will continue to try and help communicators who are being put under further intense pressure. And I will continue to hope for a change in approach away from rumour, speculation and leaks and towards honesty, openness and transparency.