Meetings, skills, strategy and Tao

There’s a scene in the second series of The Sopranos when Jackie Aprile tells Tony: “Like Tao says, you gotta shut one door, before another can open”.

At the moment it can feel a bit like we’ve got all the doors open with the wind howling through the house as we deal with the pandemic, vaccination programme, business as usual services and the looming NHS winter.

During the pandemic we set up a small, virtual group of public sector comms people in the North East to look at some of the challenges we are facing, share best practice, hear from some of the best industry voices and think a bit more about what comes next.

At the latest session almost 50 people joined a virtual meeting to hear from Darren Caveney from Comms2Point0 and look at some of the regional health campaigns that have been so successful in the past year.

Here’s some of the key talking points:

Living in the now

Darren talked a lot about the need to live in the moment and explained a feeling that we need to get the present sorted before we start worrying too much about he future. In the NHS especially, there’s a need to get through the next few months (winter is coming) before laying out more long term plans.

He urged people working in comms to stop, take a breath and reflect before getting into “what’s next mode”.

He also explained how mental health should be the number one priority for managers and teams at the moment. Everyone has been feeling it for the past 18 months and now there’s a big drive for bigger, better and faster but it’s vital that we look out for ourselves and each other.

Demand management

Covid has heightened the importance and value of good communications but this brings with it a new pressure. It’s so visible and is now seen as more important than ever, but that means communications is a profession under pressure.

Crisis comms and the backlog of work are now combining to create a fairly unique situation and lots of studies are showing red lights on the dashboard for people at the sharp end.

This is where planning, capacity vs demand and regular feedback systems are so important to organisations.

Meetings

Video calls have brought many benefits during the pandemic but have also led in many cases to a total overload of meetings, along with duplication and frustration. As a profession we need to be sure we’re all getting the best out of our time and delivering the best possible service. At the recent Comms Unplugged session Bruce Daisley found what we probably all knew anyway – less than 3% of good ideas came from meetings.

Skills

The time for learning, building skills, coaching, mentoring and networking with peers has all taken a big hit in the past couple of years and this is worrying. Teams are not future proofing or developing in the usual ways because of the covid restrictions and huge demands on their time. This seems a particular issue for more junior people or those just entering the profession.

Strategy

Comms strategies need to become much more flexible and adaptive to meet the even faster pace of change. Even the old annual plans feel outdated – we’ve moved to a weekly plan with a quarterly strategy reviewed regularly and this has really helped us manage direction and tone.

Collaboration and joint working

This has always been a huge challenge for the public sector but at a time of crisis we’ve really seen some of those barriers coming down. We’ve seen multiple partners and agencies coming together to work at pace on the most pressing issues facing local communities.

Good joint communications have been central to this and it’s pointless trying to compete and create needless confusion around the same messages – especially when it’s so difficult to cut through anyway.

The fundamentals

Finally, if this crisis has taught me anything it hasn’t been about fancy new tools or revolutionary thinking, it’s been getting the basics right and doing them well. Thinking about the fundamentals of good communications and delivering on them has never been more important.

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