COVID-19: Communication Learnings from our Armed Forces

03/08/2020

On 4th July, UK lockdown measures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic eased, with government guidance around social distancing measures reduced to one-metre plus from two-metres.

While the lifting of lockdown comes as a great relief for business owners, we must not understate the importance of employee confidence. Safeguarding measures do exist, but businesses need to communicate these effectively. As we transition out of lockdown, a consistent, sustained, and regular form of communication, from both government and business with all stakeholders, will be essential to restore confidence.

The UK’s armed forces have played a crucial role in supporting the country throughout the pandemic. General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, stated during one of the daily coronavirus briefings that the crisis is “the single greatest logistics challenge” faced in modern times. The armed forces have played a huge role as part of the government’s response, supporting with the build of Nightingale Hospitals, delivering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), running mobile testing centres, and supporting ambulance services.

Accordingly, there is an incredible amount that we can learn from those in uniform as we continue to reopen the economy and ease the lockdown. We couldn’t prevent the pandemic, but we can and must work collectively to regain stakeholder and broader societal confidence.

Boosting employee morale

Good morale is imperative in the army. Without it, there can be no way of ensuring trust and a sense of shared purpose. Similarly, businesses need to focus on maintaining and enhancing staff morale to facilitate a wholesale return to work. The brave members of our armed forces, as a part of their contract with the state, put their bodies on the line. Equally, there has been wholesale enlightenment of society to the actions of our key workers and frontline staff keeping us all safe and well. But it isn’t only the NHS that should be celebrated. Spare a thought for the supermarket home delivery personnel too, now rightfully known as “essential workers”. Without their efforts to deliver food to the homes of the most at-risk, particularly at the beginning of the crisis, more people may well have been harmed or suffered.

Effective internal communications

The high levels of discipline instilled in soldiers is another learning that we should adopt. For the foreseeable, it will be regular members of staff who are responsible for guaranteeing the safety of customers. Business leaders must ensure their team understands that tasks such as regular cleaning of surfaces may be tedious, but they are necessary steps to protect customers, staff and the country at-large at this crucial time. Discipline will keep the country safe.

Preparation and discipline

The training that members of the armed forces receive, even from the relatively junior ranks, encourages them to rigorously plan operations, consider everyone’s responsibilities, and analyse what could potentially go wrong in any given scenario. During and post-COVID-19, businesses that take such a forensic approach to operational planning, message discipline and broader communications are the ones that will thrive and actively engage both employees and external stakeholders.

Vigilant leadership

Effective communication can be successfully achieved if business leaders regularly speak to and listen to their stakeholders. Before taking action and important decisions, commanding officers rely on intelligence and feedback from operations and those on the ground. Without this basic two-way engagement, there is a real risk of disconnect, sometimes with disastrous consequences. An open and thoughtful dialogue is crucial to ensuring not only good morale but a well-defined and understood strategy. This style of leadership is also important as it ensures that there is a plan to move forward that is adaptable to the needs of the business. In a crisis scenario, as we are currently in, vigilance is equally as important. Business leaders need to be both empathetic but also demonstrate a clear sense of purpose and understanding of the needs of staff and broader stakeholders no matter their position in the chain of command.

Accountability

Leadership skills and abilities should not be expected to only emanate from those who are at the upper echelons of an organisation. In the armed forces, officers of every rank are trained in basic operational planning, including giving and obeying orders. As we transition through the ‘new normal’, all levels within an organisation are expected to develop and display their leadership skills, as they are in the armed forces. Adherence to this model will undoubtedly have an exponential impact on how businesses operate and perform.

Our armed forces have helped us cope during the COVID-19 pandemic and supported us while we have found our feet. Now is, therefore, an opportune moment for us to take note and apply the learnings from the men and women that defend our country so valiantly and diligently. It won’t be easy, but good morale and a demonstration of flexibility in decision making will make the recovery that much quicker and easier. Preparation prevents poor performance. Ensure your business is ready through effective communication.

Leon Cook is Founder and Managing Director of Atticus Communications

To find out more about how Atticus Communications can help guide your organisation post the COVID-19 crisis, get in touch: info@atticuscomms.com