When the politics is uncertain as the weather, the temptation is to keep quiet. Joe Cassidy argues now is precisely the time to do the opposite.
If there’s one subject sure to distract the British from Brexit, it’s the weather. Nothing switches the focus of the nation’s radio debates, Twitter feeds and water cooler chats quicker than a cold snap and a full board of travel delays.
The arrival of snow and ice across much of the country also revealed our penchant for a crisis (heavens knows how we’d react to conditions in Chicago right now) but also our ability to battle through it. We like to have a bit of a moan perhaps, but we keep going. It’s this stoicism and quiet professionalism that businesses – and the wider economy – rely on.
At least with the weather you can check a forecast and dress accordingly. No such luck with Brexit.
But just because no accurate political forecast is available (beyond “fog expected”), it doesn’t mean your audience prefers silence. The platform manager I saw last week, surrounded by frustrated commuters, feeling kept in the dark, provided a sharp reminder of that rule.
People like to be communicated with promptly and clearly. And they like some degree of consistency and certainty in the delivery that message too.
So why is it, that when it comes to Brexit comms, too few of the organisations have the kind of comprehensive plan demanded in the current situation?
It’s a natural reaction with the clock ticking down and little sign of a breakthrough that people clam up: “I don’t have enough information”, “things keep changing” or “I’m not sure what to do” are all perfectly valid reasons to keep schtum. Yet now is precisely the time to open up.
With staff, that means ‘walking the walk’ by ‘talking the talk’. As Punam Birly, our UK firm’s immigration lead, said during our Brexit webinar last week, “If your mission statement says that ‘people are at the heart of everything you do’, this is an opportunity to really demonstrate it”.
That communication is not just about what might happen to EU nationals but also delivering a message of reassurance to the whole workforce about your company’s preparations for Brexit. Show you aren’t ignoring the elephant in the room and the fundamentals of your business remain strong.
It’s not just about internal comms…
The task goes way beyond talking to your people however. It is an effort that requires input from almost every part of your organisation. It’s about your Ops team checking in with suppliers; Sales reassuring customers; Corporate Affairs liaising with regulators; Finance talking to your banks; and Investor Relations updating shareholders. The organisations I speak to are doing many of these, but very few are doing all of them.
The final piece of the jigsaw is then to plan what you are going to say in the future – to draw up a number of communications plans for each distinct Brexit scenario - however unlikely they may sound (if there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the past couple of years, Brexit continues to throw up surprises). Work through the practicalities of when, how and to whom you would communicate … and how you can make that communication as clear and concise as possible.
At a nervy time, when we might feel the politics threatens to career out of control, communication is one area where we can exert some order within our own world. We’re doing that at our firm and I encourage all our clients to do the same.
This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK. You can register for the email subscription list of this column and expert views from our Brexit leaders.