For the fourth in our series where we ask senior leaders to answer the Big Question we are chuffed to introduce Liam Fitzpatrick. Liam is a communications consultant specialising in change communications and advising on the shape and organisation of comms teams. He has worked around the world across multiple sectors. His latest book, co-authored with Sue Dewhurst is Successful Employee Communications. When he’s not working or writing he’s dreaming about cycling silly distances.
As we head towards week five of lockdown during COVID-19 we asked the Big Question:
Q. Will our communications ever be the same again?
It’s the middle of the day and I can hear the birds in my garden. For now, they’re not competing with aircraft in our normally busy skies or the constant murmur of road traffic. And my neighbours, who I barely knew a few weeks ago, are asking how we’ll feel when lockdown ends and the noisy and the bustle inevitably come back.
Some people are daring to ask if, in fact, we’ve changed for good. Are we entering a simpler, cleaner and less stressful world?
And leaders and communicators could be forgiven for marvelling at how their world has changed.
For several weeks now we’ve been focused on defining and delivering some critical messages. We’ve been wrestling with explaining what constitutes an essential job, how furloughs and remote working work and we’ve been taking time to remind people that we do care about them and their families. Organisations have made genuine attempts to be part of the solution regardless of their role beforehand; retailers, manufacturers, logistics firms and every sector of the economy have tried to find ways to help keep us all safe and to save lives.
Those who have missed the mood and who tried to hide their own self-interest behind a mask of social concern have stood out; their reputations will take a long time to recover.
We can certainly see how businesses have risen to the challenge of supporting society in ways that we never predicted. Their staff expect them to fulfil their role as part of a wider society as do their customers and suppliers. Many of us only imagined a few months ago how the narrative of purpose has become embedded in our workplaces. How we talk about the world has changed as dramatically as the air quality in our towns and the closeness of communities.
Yet will it last?
When Covid-19 has receded and the streets fill again and the smog returns to cities, will organisations go back to talking about the things that mattered in the past? Will our conversations be about profits and efficiency, about change and transformation? Will corporate narrative return to shareholder value, to cash and cost control and to growth and expansion?
Of course, they will. Capitalism will survive the Corona Virus and markets will still ensure that services and goods flow. But we can all hope that the lessons we have learned and the values we have rediscovered remain present in how our corporations act and talk.
All things that arise pass with time. The only certainty is the present. However, it will be a long time before people forget how they felt, for better or for worse, about organisations’ narrative in the current time. Those organisations that got their message wrong will need to work hard to rebuild trust. Those companies which rose to the challenge of the moment and which who can keep faith with the needs of their stakeholders will bounce back fastest when economies recover, and business picks up again. Most importantly, customers and workers will not quickly forget that in this (hopefully) brief period they saw clearly what mattered in their world, in their communities and in their lives.
I find it hard to imagine that we will return to a world that obsessed, to the point of blindness, about the individual and shareholders. Whilst these thing matter, what we listen to is bound to reflect a kinder and better-connected world.
If you are a senior leader and would like to answer a Big Question please get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or dm us @qandr.