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"Covid shows employees as the best brand ambassadors"

Det kulturella skiftet i och med Corona, har krävt kommunikation som en enande kraft. Det säger Anne Gregory, Professor i Corporate Communications vid universitetet i Huddersfield i en intervju om kommunikation och ledarskap efter Corona.

Dr Anne Gregory

What shift in organisational structure, way of working and focus for leaders do you see as a consequence of the Corona pandemic today?

Covid-19 has accelerated many of the things that were beginning to happen anyway like, for example, the shift the ways business is now done. Lots of new, on-line businesses such as Uber, AirB&B completely disrupting the old business models mean that traditional businesses are having to transform their ways of working to stay competitive as these new entrants with no old infrastructure and no barriers to enter the market challenge them. The service industries too, like banks, having to become much more customer focussed and responsive, moving to on-line and mobile at pace. Artificial Intelligence is playing a significant role too. So traditional businesses are having to change the old as well as driving a new way of working at the same time: think car manufacturing – keeping old models going while embracing the challenge of electric and hydrogen cars. The role of communication in change programmes and helping people got involved in deciding and implementing company strategy is crucial.

A couple of things specific to Covid. First, home working. We have got used to it and many employees, but not all have appreciated it. No traveling to work, being able to organise work to accommodate other important things in life. For employers, there has been no great drop in productivity for many and they have happier workforces. However, there have been down sides: teams are creating engines; the water cooler moments are hugely important for creating the sense of one organisation and to make all the micro decisions and conversations that make up working life. The cultural sift has been amazing and this is all made possible because communication has bound people and organisations together. Covid has really brought to the fore the importance of purpose and values because they have provided the sense of direction and security that dispersed working needs.

Second, the huge shift to the importance of direct conversations. Either employee direct conversations – CEOs doing mini videos, being available for chats etc, or direct conversations with others. It provides significant opportunities to build trust, but it also underlines the importance of integrity, providing good information and being empathetic and there is a lot for communicators to do in this space themselves, but also in helping other senior managers understand what is needed from them.

What do you see as the most important development for organisations in terms of communication Post Covid? What are the learnings so far?

A real understanding that in communication you have to walk in the shoes of the people you are communicating with and not just for instrumental reasons i.e. ‘we’ll find out what makes them tick and then we can sell more to them’. The organisations who are coming through Covid best are those who are going through the pandemic showing empathy and generosity of spirit, even though they are having a hard time themselves. I’m thinking about a little local restaurant where I live who took meals to National Health Service workers because they couldn’t get to the shops. Reputation looks after itself if you do the right thing.

Furthermore, an understanding that employees really are the brand. Employers are being judged on how they treat employees more than ever, but also employees REALLY are your best brand ambassadors. Initially there might have been some fear that devolving decisions to teams and individuals because that was the only way things could function. However, you can see how people have flourished and how companies have benefitted from empowering their workforce. Crucial to this has been the way they have been communicated with and how that can be used as a platform to communicate with others.

You showed a picture of the communication mix of earned, shared, owned and paid media, where we now are shifting towards  owned and shared media, meaning that it is more focus of what we say of ourselves and what other say about us. What does this mean in terms of focus of communication and marketing?

It's not that paid-for and earned are not important, they are. But the research shows that for employees the most credible source of information is their employers and we’ve seen a shift towards direct communication. So, there is a growing conversation going on in that owned and shared space which is non-exclusive. People love conversations.  

You have been talking about examples where employee update is also an external update for all stakeholders. Is this the time for integrating internal and external communication?

Absolutely. We know that different internal and external narratives, which are actions as well as words, cause a huge problem. It’s the authenticity gap. If you add in the fact that it has finally been realised that employees - what they say and do - is such a large part of the real story, then of course this has to be an area of focus for the future. The other challenge, if I may be controversial, is to ensure that senior people are the real role models for the story they want to be told. Reputation is the story people tell about you and that story is told by people internally and externally, wouldn’t it be great if it was the same one and a good one?

What is your best advice to Communicators today? What do you think leaders need to invest in, for themselves and their employees?

We need to think about what the purpose of communication is. For me it’s about making organisations ‘good’, because good organisations are supported and they are sustainable in the long-term. So, making an organisation ‘good’ is about focussing on their purpose, making sure that it is credible and then working with others to ensure decision-making is in line with purpose and realistic and tested values.

Coming on to the communication task it then about three things:

First, being the best you possibly can be operationally – understanding what’s going on in the world and what is important to our stakeholders, being aware of how organisations work and their priorities and up to date in our practice and therefore taking our place as a skilled, trusted adviser.

Second, it’s about integrity and honesty, which takes courage.

Third, it’s about empathy. The human connection is so important and it is about understanding the challenges of senior people as well as employees and those outside the organisation.

The Greeks had it right all those years ago: logos, ethos pathos.


Dr. Anne Gregory är en av programledarna för Communication Executives Program. Läs mer här.