Recovery and transformation planning should be underway – and the communication part will be more pivotal than ever

The mistake that many businesses make when it comes to planning for significant strategic change, especially under duress, is to underestimate how delicate and nuanced communication needs to be to have the right impact with stakeholders…..

By now, most businesses have handled the initial pandemic shock (for better or worse) and have settled into this new operating environment of EBAU (extraordinary-business-as-usual).

But with governments nearer the point of relaxing containment measures and getting businesses reopened, many are turning their attention to what their BAU environment might look like and how they might need to transform or pivot to remain viable.

That’s viable for their principal stakeholders – clients & customers, shareholders and capital providers, regulators and governments, employees, suppliers and other key business partners, as well as their communities.

It’s fair to say that knowing what these stakeholders will expect and will support (especially in the post-pandemic competition for capital) has probably never been cloudier.

And for many businesses, communicating this change will never be more pivotal and perhaps perilous.

EBAU – Keep Your Communication On Track

Right now, in EBAU, it should be an ongoing process keeping your stakeholders informed and sufficiently reassured. But in isolation, and with different sources of information at people’s disposal, vacuums can easily form.

This is why current communication needs to be as frequent, clear and consistent as it was in the initial crisis phase.

  • Err on the side of over-communicating. Otherwise, the vacuum can create doubt, rumour, inuendo and potentially, reputation damage. The risk of over-communicating in EBAU is still far outweighed by the risk of under-communicating and leaving your stakeholders underinformed and nervous. Reassurance comes through repetition and presence.
  • Continue to act with speed. Disinformation moves faster than information. Apply the 80/20 rule.
  • Prepare for media attention. The Covid-19 story is moving from the crisis itself to the transformation story, and then the recovery road ahead. The media will increasingly examine the prospects of individual companies and organisations, as they’ll be looking for winners and losers. The crisis itself is old news now.
  • Don’t be afraid to have something to say on broader themes, especially if it concerns leadership. It doesn’t have to be extensive or academic or long – in fact, the sharper the better. This post from Mirvac’s Bay Warburton last week is a fine example.

Transformation and Recovery – Get your Communication Planning Underway, Now

As any great business that has been through a crisis before knows, getting through the EBAU challenge is just the warm-up. The main game is yet to come – when BAU returns (whatever and whenever that may be). Stakeholders will want to know what to expect before they’ll even think about support.

Those expectations spread across all dimensions; from product and service offerings to clients & customers, return on capital to investors, social impact on communities, right down to the job that employees will fulfill.

Good companies right now will be furiously working over what transformation or pivots they need to make, and how they will then hit the new road ahead. McKinsey & Company recently published the playbook on strategic recovery planning, which is no doubt occupying the attention of many businesses and organisations around the world right now.[1]

The McKinsey model recognises that a key resourcing part of this recovery planning is to have what they refer to as a ‘plan ahead team’ in place now – collecting forward intelligence, analyzing and stress testing scenarios and assessing the strategic and tactical options and actions that might need to be taken. They emphasise a 5-step framework, and not being afraid to confront uncertainty head-on.

“We can’t stress the idea enough: speed is of the essence. Your plan-ahead team must move fast, give you the day-one answer tomorrow, and iterate at high velocity. If new issues or opportunities come up, add modules for your plan-ahead team; don’t slow down. The next few weeks and months will shape the future of your company—and possibly, your industry.”[2]

The mistake that many businesses make when it comes to planning for significant strategic change, especially under duress, is to underestimate how delicate and nuanced communication needs to be to have the right impact with stakeholders. Too often in the past, we have seen (and been involved ourselves) in crafting the communication strategy and accompanying collateral at the eleventh hour, without having the context of the strategic planning journey to lay the communication path. It is one with plenty of potholes.

Businesses might have been able to get away with that type of scramble in the past but in a post-coronavirus environment, that type of neglect could prove to be terminal – because the winners and losers from this coronavirus thing will be absolute.

Good businesses will know and recognise this risk and will already be resourcing and planning.

Apr 21, 2020

About the author

Justin Kirkwood

GAICD, MIntS Syd., BA (Comm)

Justin Kirkwood has more than 30 years’ corporate relations advisory experience
specialising in communication and reputation risk management.