Lines of communication ensure success for the future

Fears for small business after new employment laws

Robyn Sefiani

As tempting as it might be, given the economic gloom, now is not the time to lie low, waiting for business to knock at your door.

On the contrary, it is a time to be seen and heard, to step up internal and external communications. Businesses that retreat into their bunkers now risk falling victim to circumstances out of their control.

Most important at this time is to be nimble, both in commercial operations and communications. Tried and tested practices may have been successful in the past, but we are now in uncharted waters and a new approach may be required to retain share of voice and market profile.

Companies must be acutely attuned to their operating environment and be prepared to adjust their messaging and value proposition. They need to be visible in communicating clear positioning to their stakeholders and differentiating their offering.

Being heard is one thing but it is equally important to calibrate the message so it resonates with stakeholders. Effective communications planning will help identify relevant stakeholders-clients, employees, business references, suppliers, alliance partners or governments and regulators -and ensure your business is engaging with the people you need to reach in the most effective manner.

Management of workplace dynamics is critical to business resilience at this time. As the face and voice of your organisation, employees are frequently an external barometer of your company’s health.

A well-informed workplace is generally a more motivated and productive one, and companies are advised to elevate employee communications during a time of acute uncertainty.

As the head of a Sydney-based corporate communications agency, I was struck last month by the phenomenon of CEO clients urgently seeking employee communication advice.

Clearly, the implications of global financial turmoil had sunk in during the summer holidays, and workers were returning to their offices fearful for their future.

Rumour and speculation were rife and the decline in morale and productivity in many workplaces was palpable.

Our advice to CEOs in this situation is to move quickly to establish an open communications channel with staff, so they feel they are as informed as they can be about their situation and prospects.

Even though little in the way of new information or hard reassurances can be given, sometimes the very fact of the CEO communicating is enough to restore calm and get minds focused back on the job.

Where possible, attempt to address concerns of employees and seek opportunities to engage in open discussion around the future of the business. While not all news may be positive, ensure honest and responsive communication channels and, where possible, share stories of success and accomplishment. Something as simple and cost-effective as a regular CEO voice message on the telephone system can work well in keeping employees up to date with company happenings.

Much has been written of late about the importance of trust in business relationships. Trust comes from delivering on promises and providing a consistent quality service or product. It is enhanced by open, regular and honest communication with stakeholders. Business operators should not be afraid to tell their clients how much their business and working relationship is valued, or ask how services can be adapted to meet changing needs.

On the marketing front, the value of business referrer networks has rarely been more important. With so many larger, ASX-listed enterprises bunkering down to manage the flow of bad news, other enterprises are better placed to capture a share of media exposure.

Opportunities have emerged for these companies to announce new products or innovative offerings, or build thought leadership positioning through media channels.

Reputation management, based in effective issues and crisis management, remains an essential component of strategic business management in a downturn.

 A good corporate reputation, built over years, can be destroyed within hours by a poorly managed crisis.

An issues audit will identify areas of reputation risk, and companies should use this to identify their crisis management team and protocols.

Retreating to the bunker during the downturn is not an option. Experience tells us the companies that invest time and resources in getting proactive, creative and visible now will emerge strongest when the crisis has passed.

The Australian

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