Strategic Communication: 5 Stages in Planning for “The Next Normal”

A March 2020 McKinsey & Company article “Beyond Coronavirus:  The Path to the Next Normal” discusses the dramatic change in how businesses must now function and outlines considerations for the “next normal.” It has thought-provoking insight for business communicators.

Authors Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal outline five stages leading from the crisis of today to the “next normal” that will emerge. As business communicators, we can use these stages to outline our strategies for the coming weeks. We can also help businesses clearly understand the vital role of communication in times of change.

1. Resolve 

This is the initial phase of managing the business in crisis. It includes accelerating or reducing operations, shifting to remote work as the standard instead of the exception, and determining the scale, pace and depth of action required to manage the crisis. A CEO cited in the article said, “I know what to do.  I just need to decide whether those who need to act share my resolve to do so.”

As communicators, we must help gather data for decision-making and develop communication strategies for all stakeholders. Decisions must be made quickly, and our communication plans should be targeted, deliberate and ready to activate. 

  • How do we support exhausted business leaders trying to make sound decisions? 
  • How can we encourage confident action and reduce the fear that causes hesitation or paralysis? 
  • How do we most effectively reassure stakeholders in times of uncertainty so they will understand and support leadership decisions?

2. Resilience

This health crisis is also leading to an economic crisis due to rapid liquidity and solvency challenges across so many industries. The article states that businesses will soon be required to implement broader resilience plans. They must be ready to balance economic necessity with industry structures that have turned upside down. They must prepare for social pressures, flexing the workforce and changes in competitive position.

As communicators, we can help companies begin managing this shift.

  • What are your plans to stimulate sales when cash flow is low? 
  • How do you assess current market position and how it differs from the “pre-virus” position? 
  • Have you outlined and prioritized your goals, objectives and strategies for the coming weeks? 

3. Return

It is going to take time to reactivate supply chains, adjust production schedules, rehire / retrain employees, etc. Leaders will be assessing their systems and contingency plans based on this experience.  

Strategic communication plays a critical role in helping the company survive in a new environment and prepare for the future. 

  • How can we help our companies get back to previous levels of productivity? 
  • How do we reassure cautious workers about coming back into the workplace? 
  • What suggestions / research can we offer to help leaders prioritize actions? 
  • How do we modify our marketing communication plans and budgets for optimal results and documented return on investment?

This is also a good time to update your company’s emergency operations plan, policies and procedures, etc. Use the lessons learned while they are fresh to anticipate future emergency operations needs. 

  • Help write policies and update plans for quick reference needed during the next crisis. 
  • Develop scenarios to use in discussion and training. 
  • Create infographics that could be modified for other emergency situations.

4. Reimagination

The ongoing impact on how we work and live is already becoming clear and will be further defined in coming weeks. Businesses and institutions that reinvent themselves “will disproportionately succeed,” the McKinsey authors state. 

The crisis has identified not only vulnerabilities, but also opportunities. Sneader and Singhal note the result will be “a stronger sense of what makes business more resilient to shocks, more productive and better able to deliver to customers.”

This can also be applied to communication strategy. 

  • How do we continue to flex operations while remaining efficient? 
  • How do we push the technology envelope for the future? 
  • Are we ready to promote “contactless” commerce? 
  • Are we dependent on global supply chain resources, or can we tap into resources closer to home?  

5. Reform

Because governments have stepped in to address the global challenge, they may feel emboldened to take a more active role shaping economic activity and business regulations in the future. Policies and legislation on critical infrastructure, strategic reserves, training / distance learning and contingency plans will all be addressed on both a broad and company-specific scale.

Consider new or changing regulations and legislation that could impact the business. 

  • Are there new regulatory issues that may emerge when the crisis exceptions end?
  • Can you begin to reform laws or processes based on what was learned during the crisis?  
  • What worked smoothly in emergency operations, and where were the issues? 
  • What can we control going forward, and how do we mitigate what we can’t control? 
  • Have our target audiences or message changed?  
  • Do we have new potential customers or business opportunities? How do we reach them?

With every challenge comes opportunity, and this will be our opportunity to show how professional business communicators play a vital role in company performance and continuity. 

Perhaps it’s a new and improved normal for our profession as well. 

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