The Greek philosophiser Heraclitus believed that everything must be kept in a permanent state of flux to hold the universe in balance.
“You can never step in the same river twice,” he famously posited.
Well, for many in the NHS that certainly sounds deceptive as they wade shoulder deep through the choppy waters of a second Covid19 wave and national lockdown.
As we look to a reintroduction of the tier system I asked people across the network to offer up their tips and biggest lessons from last time when it comes to good public sector communications.
Here are the nuggets of advice from across my networks on where we go from here……
Compliance isn’t a guarantee and as circumstances change and messages evolve this destabilises understanding and compliance with the rules.
Political spats aren’t helpful and undermine purpose – the debate about money took over from the debate about safety.
Local and place-based comms/stories are far more effective and impactful than national ones.
You can never do enough so you need to pace yourself. Talking about good wellbeing and practicing it yourself are two different things and if you are leading a team you have to demonstrate this by example. Talk about your own feelings to surface those of your team and take time out. No one else will take leave if they don’t see you doing it.
Internal comms – make everything relevant and cut the fillers. Use it as an opportunity to try new things.
External comms – do more with partners to present a more unified and cohesive picture. Finally, be mindful that no matter what you do there will always be more you could have done but you don’t have the time or resources. Save it for the next wave!
Balance out the negative comms with positives. Keep the messages short and get senior management to engage with comms (virtual briefings, update intros etc)
Really think about your audience and what type of message will resonate with them – how do you cut through the noise?
Foster and support great manager comms – works best when consistent, timely and from a trusted source.
Find a balance between telling people what they need to do, but not making it look like a string of dictates. Be clear, but supportive. It’s a challenging time for everyone.
Find the good in the situation – celebrate success / say thank you / acknowledge the challenges
Support each other and develop strong networks. There is a wealth of expertise out there and collective messages can have a lot more impact.
Be consistent with your messaging, internally and externally, provide a service that reflects your organisation’s values, which is right for your populations / communities. Be brave, you are the expert.
Continue to use human interest stories to connect with/communicate people – there is lots of noise and people are fed up – they block things out – these stories can cut through
Be kind – we are all under pressure – be kind to yourself too, recognise that we are doing our best and a great job!
Do more engagement with internal audiences around them having a responsibility to share important messages with family, friends and communities – they’re an organisation’s voice too, comms isn’t all about media and digital…
Don’t be afraid to try new things – if they fail, move on – people connect with funny, out of the ordinary, heartfelt stories.
For internal communications there’s a tendency to think you need to share everything but we only have so much capacity to absorb the information. Stick to the key headline, need to know information and use a lot of different channels to share this.
Continue to celebrate your staff. They are working harder in a different way than ever before and need to be reminded that they are doing a brilliant job and that we are all in this together. The clapping has stopped, but we all need to keep our and everyone else’s spirits up and feel there is an end in sight.
Right now I think communication professionals are under even more pressure than before as the things we put on hold during the first wave are now being picked back up, but we can only do so much and need to look at how we can work smarter rather than harder/later! Networking with comms colleagues at councils, CCGs, VSOs and LCOs helps, so you can share resources and assets as well as get an understanding of the local picture.
Listen to your colleagues and be responsive so you are providing the communications they need (not just what you think is right). Remember you will always share too much for some people and not enough for others but aim for just about right for the majority.
Use multiple channels to meet the needs of those working different shift patterns. Don’t be afraid to try new things – we launched lots of new stuff and even though we were under pressure our creativity seemed to thrive.
Make time to look after your team’s wellbeing and your own.
Be empathetic, we’re all in this together, show you understand, support and engage – now is now the time for pushing content but rather to listen to the needs of your audience and engage
We brought comms teams together from across our infrastructure for support, extra resource, breaking down organisational barriers, amplification & unified key messaging. We were already doing it but COVID showed the real value.
Nafisa Ali Shafiq
– Keep comms simple, clear & concise
– Focus msgs on what you want your audience to do
– Point to sources of truth
– Avoid jargon, use plain English
– Be genuine, human & empathetic
– Tailor messages across owned channels
Remember: This too shall pass
A former senior manager colleague of mine (clinical risk expert with originally a nursing background and now working on a consultancy contract in the NHS in the north of England) who has accumulated a lot of wisdom over her 40 year career in healthcare wrote this to FB friends over the weekend:
‘Can we change the narrative about the pandemic? I vote that we move towards a language of resilience and positivity. We have had many months to adjust to the reality that Covidbrings. Constant talk of “crisis” and “difficult times” and “coping” does not give people hope or a belief that they can thrive in our changing landscape. I ask the media to change their reporting strategy. I get that some of it has been a way of controlling behaviour. The numbers of people testing positive and (possibly) being admitted may be increasing but the message of how many people go on to get better isn’t part of Covid reporting . People are going to die. I get that. Not everyone will die. Remember that. We need to think and act carefully about being part of the spread of Covid for the physical and mental health of our nation and the world. I don’t have any direct media contacts but if you do, could you please ask them to promote resilience?’
I know that focusing on any positives that exist in the current scenario (such as survival/successful discharges) could induce complacency in some but second time round there must be some scope for and benefit to be gained from encouraging a bit more balance to presentation and reporting.