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A Communications Health Check For Your Public Sector Organization

A Communications Health Check For Your Public Sector Organization

What the country needs now is great communication.

In every town across the country, people are staring down a double threat to their physical and financial health on grand scale. They are on uneven footing in a wholly new logistical landscape that pervades their personal and professional lives, feeling the full weight of work-life trade-offs that we have long been uncomfortable with, and trying to stay productive and calm for their families and colleagues.

The recent Edelman Trust Barometer COVID-19 Special Report found that 63% of those surveyed trust information received from their employers, versus 58% for a government website and 51% for traditional media.

Public sector organizations have vast communications networks and resources to connect people with timely, accurate information. By leveraging these channels effectively, leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen culture, community, and trust.

Here are five ways leaders can plan and execute healthy communications that keep people engaged, productive, and connected, and a checklist to help leaders identify blind spots and build strength throughout their communications approaches.

[Related: First-Line Managers Can Reduce Stress With Compassionate Management]

Align for consistency.

Crisis magnifies the need for tightly aligned strategic communications planning. Task a cross-functional team (HR, Ops, Finance, Public Affairs, IT, and others) with a laser focus on your message today.

Spend time getting it right the first time so you don’t lose time, perpetuate misinformation, or need to walk-back communications to internal and external stakeholders. If your crisis communications team is already in place, plan past the curve to how and when this function will be re-aligned to help guide your teams to the new normal.

Build connection.

Current communications culture and cadence won’t be enough to get teams through. At the highest levels of leadership, set the example by committing to a weekly update to report out on efforts underway, progress, and work still to do, and back it with an interactive feedback loop.

In smaller teams, leaders should – at a minimum – set more frequent, shorter touch points with video conferencing to convey any messages staff missed, clarify, and check in on state of mind.

Clear is kind.

This is great advice from bestselling author Brene Brown. Set expectations with all stakeholders on how rapidly changing variables may impact them, keeping communications clear and concise.

Whether it is specifics about working from home or reprioritizing team efforts as you address crisis response and planning, make sure employees know exactly what is expected of them, and what they can expect of you.

According to Harvard Business Review, 92% of respondents agreed that negative feedback, if delivered appropriately, is highly effective at improving performance.

[Related: How to Thrive at Work as a Sensitive Person]

The internal is external, and vice versa.

Leaders can expect what they say inside organizations to reach external audiences almost instantaneously. Look at all messaging from both lenses and leverage your greatest strength – your people.

Recall of key messages can increase four-fold when internal and external campaigns are aligned. For messaging that sticks, assess stakeholder needs first, and then target available information to meet stakeholders where they are.

Share, share, share.

The Edelman report also found that there is twice as much trust in a combined business/government effort than in government combatting the virus alone. Communications strategies that didn’t make the short list for your team might help others.

Share approaches in a central location for partners in your agency, community, and industry. Ask stakeholders to share their feedback in real-time. Assuming your communications are hitting the mark when they are not is the most common business blind spot.

Take action today.

The questions below can help leaders identify blind spots and take action to accelerate communications success.

  1. Is a crisis team aligned to communicate as one team, to all stakeholders?
  2. Does your leader have a direct line to employees and clients (via an app)?
  3. Are need-to-know communications reaching below the management layer?
  4. Are you working from a communications strategy, plan, and key message map?
  5. When this crisis unfolded, did you know the first 50 calls you needed to make?
  6. Have you adjusted BAU communications to develop messaging that fits the crisis?
  7. Are crisis messages aligned with all internal and external communications?
  8. Are you checking in regularly with your team(s) on state of mind?
  9. Are you clearly communicating “stop, start, continue” plans with all affected?
  10. Are you actively monitoring stakeholder sentiment up and down the chain?
  11. Have you engaged strategic partners to develop a coordinated approach?
  12. Where can your community find your plan for handling the crisis?
  13. Is there a strong feedback loop in place for your targeted stakeholder groups?

[Related: Authenticity and Vulnerability at Work: Walking the Tightrope]


Sara Thomas works with AWL's clients to craft agile communications strategies that engage the workforce, transform culture, and create velocity. With over twenty years of experience in strategic communications and organization change spanning the public and private sectors, her mission is to help clients tell their best stories, drive innovation, and maximize results.

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