The Great Lockdown 2020: Why it doesn’t apply to HR communication

Is your company communicating the impact of Covid-19 to everyone in the business? Are they instilling the plans implemented to overcome the unprecedented shock to the commercial system? I suspect so, and certainly hope so.

So, what is the role of HR in this?

Based on my experience of the consequences of 3 significant recessions and costs of a number of catastrophic global events, communication from the people responsible for people isn’t important, it’s critical.

As ResearchGate commented: “The first reaction of any employee who learned about the crisis in the company will be the idea of what will happen to him or her personally………. personnel will become the company’s key resource in the process of overcoming the crisis and recovering after it”.

Despite this, I’ve already started hearing “engagement and that project will have to be put aside while the crisis continues” Or, “I know it’s important, but it will just have to wait until things calm down” and “HR needs to reduce its comms budget for this”.

Why the ‘reduced communication’ approach has significant risk?

  • Recovery – When, apart from fuelling the sense of isolation, a paucity of employee centric communication will leave the HR strategy on flat feet when the world bounces back, and it will bounce back.

 A dearth of connectivity and engagement will cause a lag on recovery and undermine much of the investment in communication preceding the pandemic. It is also well recognised that those companies who adopt an aggressive HR communication strategy during a downturn have a competitive advantage at the point of recovery.

  • Business continuity – Harnessing their own people strategy is an opportunity not to be missed for HR to inspire as well as inform their people to gain a closer understanding of the future. Provide Line Managers and influencers with content and message. Also, to take time explaining the impact of the pandemic on strategy and engagement, motivating colleagues to strive for continuity and not to tread water ‘until it’s all over’.
  • Personal Value Time – A wasted opportunity if missed: Depending on the type of role, people have more time to refocus on their role, updating their profile and requirements for ‘virtual’ learning and career development. It’s also an HR opportunity to create a better understanding of the complexities of Reward – pay, comp & ben and all the performance related initiatives combined with key messages. It’s a vital part of motivation.

Employees may feel unsettled; uncertain; have spare time for reflection – is this a time to look elsewhere? When the business needs more than ever to retain the talent that will take it in to the future, this is an enormous opportunity to engage with reward, career path, L&D, values and potential.

People are the company’s key resource for overcoming a crisis so, rather than slowing the employee communication strategy down, HR must accelerate it. How?

Firstly, ensure the right channels are used – with the advantages of video links alone, digital has mitigated the negative effects of social distancing operationally.  Personalised message and content can also be targeted to individuals successfully who are able to respond to their emotional as well as practical needs and to drive positive behaviours. In a recent article Sir Martin Sorrell recognised the need for his clients to “accelerate focus on digital channels”.

The 5 C Rules

Normally, I would discuss solutions with the word Approach. But this is too important so I use the word Rules. Here are 5 Rules, or the 5 Cs that I believe must be adopted by HR and their communication strategy to drive a positive outcome for the next 9 months.

  1. Connectivity – ensure everyone can reach each other to be informed, make decisions and act.
    Example action: Ensure internal social channel is activated and HR campaigns are running on it.
  2. Collaboration – communication must encourage teamwork with shared strategy and mutual understanding of purpose.
    Example action: Identification of HR champions to run (virtual) lunch and learn sessions / post on internal channels on each of the HR projects, encouraging peer to peer endorsement.
  3.  Community – everyone must feel that they are in this together with positive energy and shared abilities.
    Example action: Develop a communication plan delivering valuable and relevant content allowing people to maintain human interaction.
  4. Channels – only use channels that are relevant to an identified audience – reduce noise.
    Example action: Measure effectiveness of current channels and survey employees to determine preferred channels.
  5. Consequence – Coming out of the crisis on the front foot is essential. A sustainable strategy – address (don’t park) BAU activity, it generates confidence. Balance this by anticipating the longer-term needs, the initiatives you were planning before the pandemic – have them ready and the outcomes will lead to success.
    Example action: Utilise lockdown time to set up background work to holistic reward campaign (narrative, look and feel, long term communication plan).

The consequences of not adhering to these rules is that in a world where everyone is craving information, if you don’t manage it, people will find their answers elsewhere and make their own conclusions.

The impact of Covid-19 on business needs to be mitigated and not allowed to overwhelm. It’s a galvanised workforce that will deliver – not a scared, isolated collection of individuals that have no direction. I believe they will then create a legacy of trust in HR by supporting them in navigating towards the recovery. 

Calling all HR colleagues! It’s necessary now more than ever to evaluate how well your people are engaged, so don’t keep communication in lockdown, release it!

If you would like to understand more about communicating to your employees in these challenging times, please get in touch with me, Chris Hopkins, or with Chris Andrew or Vicky Johnstone

[i] The economist – ‘Growth will bounce back once the pandemic passes: the fund expects rich countries to grow by 4.5%, and poorer ones by 6.6%, in 2021’. Web.