By using it to clearly articulate the 5W’s and get buy-in to achieve success.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for effective communications, especially this month where parents are debating whether to return their kids to school. Like all other parents out there, I am struggling with making the right choice. As a communications professional, I have been fascinated by the pace of change to the back to school plan, specifically the communications and the invaluable role it plays for parents during these unprecedented times.
Communications has always been a critical piece of managing change and is often mistaken for change management. While the two go hand in hand, communications alone cannot manage change but are needed to build awareness, get buy-in and ultimately achieve success.
Back to school is not only impacting the school boards but businesses too. The past five months have been challenging for parents and children and will continue to be for a lot longer. At first, many of us felt things would get back to normal sooner than later. But suddenly weeks and months are passing by with no end in sight, leaving many parents struggling on what to do in September. Do we send them to school? Do we keep them at home? Does one of us stop working to take care of our children and home school? What can parents do to put pressure on the government to ensure our schools are safe?
Businesses are in the same position and are asking themselves what they can do to prepare and support their employees during this time. Some of the questions they are likely asking are, have we done enough to support parents that are keeping their children home? Do we have the right protocols in place if parents are sending their children back? Are we enhancing or updating our policies on sick days? How are we supporting those leaving the workforce and what are we going to do to fill this gap? Are we providing enough resources to get our people through this trying period?
As you will see in my video, a lot of the work for communications professionals and teams has always been about managing change and back to school is no different. To achieve a positive outcome for back to school, it is important for communicators to build their plan and develop their communications using one of the organizational change methodologies.
As a Harbinger, I would develop these pieces using our Foresight ™ methodology, which allows for flexibility of focus on the various stages of change and increased emphasis on individual change experiences. As a corporate communications practitioner, using the 5 W’s (Who, What, When, Why and Where) and How really comes in handy when building an effective change communications strategy. In this blog, I’ll demonstrate how communication teams can articulate their 5 W’s to structure communications for successful change in our current environment like the back to school season ramps up. But first, I invite you to watch my video to hear my insights for communication teams before I dive into all the details below.
In this instance, the “who”, or the key stakeholders would include the C-Suite, leaders, and employees, with school-aged children. The communications practitioner will have to develop key messages for back to school, in addition to the ones they’ve already developed for the coronavirus. They would also need to have specific communications for each group to support their different needs. For example, communication teams can provide guidance for leaders on how to plan for and support their employees that have school-aged children, flexible working hours, or a condensed work week. When targeted at employees, this could include information on how to apply for leave or talking points for leader discussions. For the C-Suite, focus on relationship management. This continues to be an important tool and ensures that employees have a seat at the table to help the business make informed decisions regarding back to school. Being able to a part of these discussions will help determine how to best communicate important decisions regarding the implementation of new flexible working policies or enhancing sick day policies. Having strong relationships also helps to get buy-in and build trust so that you can execute your communications strategies seamlessly.
Next would be the “what”. The what in this case is back to school, which similar to the Covid-19 activities, the pace of change is fast, and information is endless. It’s challenging to stay on top of everything, especially since each school board has variances to their plans, but it is crucial for corporate communications teams to do their best to stay on top of these rapid changes. Why? So that they can have the right information to provide to senior leaders to make decisions, and to guide their communications. There definitely won’t be a one size fits all approach, however, it is possible to develop guidelines and scenarios including flexible hours for parents, extending maternity leaves, or providing short term leaves of absence.
Next comes the “when”. Timing is everything in communications! Decisions are being made faster than ever with back to school and employees must be kept informed regularly of business decisions. For September, employees will expect to see frequent and regular updates from their employers because they’re used to this pace of communications from the government. Companies will also need to know what parents decide as this will have an impact on their business. Many predict a significant number of female employees will be exiting the workforce as noted by several news sources including the CBC.
A report last month from RBC Economics called the hit on women's employment "unprecedented," with 1.5 million women in Canada losing their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. In April, women's participation in the Canadian workforce — or the share of the working-age population that is working or looking for work — fell to 55 percent, a level last seen in May 1986.
With this gap, organizations will have to look at internal development programs and other activities to mitigate this as much as possible. Corporate communications teams will need to work hand in hand with businesses to communicate all aspects of the plan, as well as key updates and information.
Now comes the ”why”. This is one of the most important questions to answer when building your communications strategy. While communications teams may understand who their audience is, what they need to focus on, and when to focus on it, they also need to understand why it is important. For back to school, the “why” is about supporting our employees who have school-aged children. Businesses cannot lose sight of their mental health initiatives. They need to continue offering resources like the “Not Myself Today” mental health workplace campaign from the Canadian Mental Health Association. While this is not only the right thing to do, an analysis from Deloitte states that workplace mental health programs provide a median return of investment of $1.62 for every $1 spent. The communications teams will be responsible for working in partnership with human resources to deliver these mental programs that are crucial in supporting employees and also contributes directly to the bottom line.
Lastly comes the “how”. Once the company has outlined its plan, communications teams will need to relay this information to employees by leveraging several different channels. With more employees working remotely, it will be crucial to focus on the last stage of change which is reinforcement. There are different ways to successfully complete this and one of the most important communications pieces is repetition and leader support. Information shared to employees must be repeated several times, and from several communications channels such as the intranet, internal social networking platform like Yammer, MS Teams broadcast messages, executive communications, and video conference calls, for it to stick. In addition to this, leaders must be provided with tips and guidance on how to manage and support employees during this stressful period.
One final piece worth mentioning is the underlying thread, the communications work to embed a change resilient culture. This takes time but can be achieved by developing and executing communications that support the results from a change capability assessment. Some activities that can be used include creating change agents, or leader intranet portals that include key information, speaking points and FAQs. It is crucial for change to be built into a company’s mission and employee value propositions, taking the time to develop a chance resilient culture will take your business to the next level and enable your employees to champion change proactively. There’s no shortage of work here for communicators at this time, some may even consider us to be essential workers. While the communications process and planning remain unchanged, the quality and detail of our work will only get better if we incorporate a change management methodology like Foresight ™ into our communications. What’s more, is doing so will allow us to understand what types of communications are needed, and what tone is required during the several phases of change for back to school. Personally, I would appreciate it if my organization lead with compassion and empathy and had regular updates like Q&As available quickly following key changes or updates from the government, like the staggered start dates that were just announced. As a parent of a toddler and a newborn, I’ve never felt so much stress and uncertainty. While I’m currently on maternity leave, I’ve been grateful to have supportive leadership. However, as a communications professional, I’m definitely missing the intensity and thrill of working on once in a lifetime change communications for the pandemic including back to school communications.
To close, I’m wishing all the parents out there all the best and encourage you to be kind to yourself. We’re all in this together and there’s definitely no right or wrong answer.
Director of Marketing & Communications
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