How Brexit became the ultimate internal comms challenge
The subject and associated challenges of Brexit have been rumbling on since 2016. With no signs of abating, it’s presenting an issue for UK organizations – particularly for internal communication departments.
When the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU has a direct impact on the livelihoods of your workforce, it’s critical to make sure you are communicating your plans, objectives, and ambitions with your organization as effectively as possible. With many businesses staring into the abyss, a steadfast communications strategy is vital.
Focusing on communication and keeping a strong and steady dialogue between you and your employees is crucial in periods of change. However, when the landscape is rapidly developing, it’s challenging to maintain unwavering, dependable support. This blog will identify the key challenges and the steps that your internal communications and HR departments should take to fortify your workforce.
Changing plans, conflict of opinion, political divisions and controversy taking place in Westminster is having a significant effect on the rest of the UK. The highly partisan nature of Brexit in the press has led to divisions in communities, families, and workplaces. In this period of considerable uncertainty, the role of internal communications must be relied on to provide employees with the guidance and support they are looking for.
All employees need certainty, so when there’s unrest affecting your workforce, how can your organization help appease matters?
About change comms
For internal comms professionals, trying to plan in a continually changing situation presents many challenges. As Rachel Miller from All Things IC suggests, when it comes to communicating changes, start by using Unknown Knowns and Known Knowns. Why? “Because what employees are looking for in change communication situation are clarity, certainty, and consistency.” Finding out what is certain and what is uncertain in these situations should be the basis of your communication strategy.
However, the unusual and unpredictable nature of Brexit has meant these things flip-flop, and what was once considered ‘Known’ can quickly turn to ‘Unknown,’ leaving many of us grappling for some constant in a state of flux.
Internal communication departments should continually address the doubt and uncertainty that arise from situations like Brexit to deliver comms that inform, support and improve understanding the complexities of the subject.
14 steps to great internal communications
Why is communication so important in times of change?
People often find change difficult to deal with. As Dale Roach describes in the Like a Team blog, “change can introduce many complex issues. Some people are not at all comfortable with transitions even when it is needed. Chaos evolves which leads to counter-productivity.”
Fear and anxiety can arise when the future appears different from what was originally planned. For something as complex as a withdrawal from the EU, the process has been drawn out and subject to many changes. Still, at the time of writing there is no clear conclusion on the horizon. With no defined plan, extensions and rumors of a referendum, business leaders have found it difficult to prepare their business and workforce for the future.
However, while Brexit comms have been difficult to strategize, they have not been impossible. When a change is unfolding, it’s not the internal comms department’s role to guess the outcome. In periods of instability, all that is possible is to give regular updates from verified sources and to pass on information relevant to your business and workforce.
How to successfully communicate change
All companies experience change, whether it’s growth, job losses, mergers or a relocation. Adjusting to new circumstances is something that happens a lot. However, Brexit is something that will affect all UK businesses in profound ways – with changes to employment, tax and trade laws amongst others. As such, all companies will need to review their business plans in order to deal with all potential scenarios that lie ahead.
So, what has the Brexit situation taught us about communicating change? At the very least, it’s shown us how quickly confusion and anxiety arise when there is a lack of clarity or planning. And when people feel rudderless, chaos can ensue. To make your comms as effective as possible, make sure the information you pass on to your workforce is rooted in truth, transparency, and inclusiveness.
Internal communication departments should address the doubt and uncertainty that arise from situations like Brexit to deliver comms that inform, support and improve understanding the complexities of the subject.
Some ways to ensure you are delivering the most effective comms during periods of change like Brexit include:
Check your source of truth
Employees need to know that, wherever possible, their organization is passing on verified, reliable information internally to the best of their ability. This fosters trust – an invaluable asset to have in times of change.
Encourage your workforce to get their information from verified sources
Advise your employees to source information is trustworthy and reliable. Double check updates before sharing them with your organization. Encourage your workers to do the same and advise them to distrust reports on social media and unverified news sources.
14 steps to great internal communications
Effective communication is a two-way street, so make sure you and your senior management open to questions and dialogue. Conversations encourage a culture of open communication but also allows you to spot any gaps in your connection. Make sure top level are feeding back to you any queries that they are receiving. If workers are asking questions that the official comms aren’t covering, it’s good to review and rectify this.
Focus on a positive future
While it’s essential to keep your workforce abreast of the changing landscape and how that could potentially affect your business, it’s also crucial to describe the plans, ambitions, and objectives that the organization is looking towards over the next few years. Regardless of the political climate, make sure your workforce is informed of the developments and goals that lie ahead.
Effective communication starts with your leaders
A crucial part of any effective communication strategy is making sure your leaders are fully informed. Leaders need to have the skills and relevant information to be able to reassure employees. Part of the responsibility in leading is to demonstrate confidence that the organization is equipped to look after its personnel and overcome any issues in the changes ahead.
Allow employees to support each other
While your organization can create effective top-down communications, it also beneficial to allow employees to develop their own place to communicate with and support each other. Providing an intranet forum or another channel to let open exchanges can be useful to workers looking for help and counsel while Brexit reaches its conclusion. IC professionals should manage these spaces, and check for any false information that is being shared. This can inform further updates from the company.
Offer assurance and certainty where possible
In times of confusion, it’s important to offer assurance where you can. Provide your employees with definites, e.g., “Our company will do its utmost to keep all employees abreast of the political situation in the UK.” While no one can be sure of the final outcome of Brexit, your employees need to feel that your business has their best interests at heart.
Be honest too
Of course, you need to be able to be completely transparent with your workforce as well. Which means, if news develops which could negatively impact any EU nationals working in your organization or the way your business operates, it’s essential to be upfront about it. Even if developments look ambiguous, it’s OK to communicate that to your workforce, with the promise that updates will follow. This will dispel rumors and gossip too.
Drop the bias
While an issue like Brexit has certainly proved itself to be divisive, pressing any political bias in your comms is to be avoided. Deliver news as it happens without putting forth an opinion or comment. Remaining impartial means there is less chance of broadcasting false statements, encouraging fear mongering and inciting isolation from those who don’t share your stance.
Make sure your information is accessible
Of course, all internal comms needs to be available to everyone but never is it more pertinent than with a big issue like Brexit that could affect the way your business and workforce operates. Make sure all channels are covered so all employees can access updates and news from your department. Use your intranet, noticeboards, emails, newsletters, mobile alerts and make sure your managers and stakeholders are briefed with up-to-date and unhindered information.
Face-to-face communication is vital
While internal comms focuses a lot on technology, it’s important to remember that a face-to-face conversation is a valuable way of sharing information. Whether it’s good news, bad news or merely an update on the developing situation, making sure that communicating face-to-face is part of your change comms strategy. These moments can give you information about the mood, thoughts, and morale of your team and allow you to communicate more effectively.
Ultimately, the changing landscape of Brexit has made it impossible for any organization to promise a protected or secure future for its workforce, particularly any EU nationals that are employed in the UK. What was looking certain now looks doubtful, and what was once dubious looks likely. Your organization can only act as a conduit for information and secure the future of your staff wherever possible. But building a robust internal comms strategy for Brexit – and other situations of change – allows you and your organization to adjust better, become stronger and go forward with increased confidence.