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When the issues get tough, the tough start communicating


The last thing we all need is more information. We’ve already got more than we can handle, with TV, radio, newspapers, Web-based news media, 24-hour news channels, social media, and so on.

What’s everyone talking, reading and writing about? The issues of the day are big, difficult topics that have a huge impact on business – such as economic recession/recovery, climate change (“cap-and-trade” legislation), health care reform, etc. The tougher and bigger the issue, the more information is in the news. And the more people talk about it, the more they think they know.

So what can companies possibly add to the discussion? A lot, especially in communicating with one key audience – employees. Companies are uniquely positioned to help their people understand what certain issues could mean to them, their families, and their jobs and careers

The timing for an internal communications push on big issues has arrived. Major national legislation is in implementation or pending in all of these areas, and the international community is becoming mobilized. Your goal should be to provide clarity and context, not to add noise to the system.

Here are some guidelines on how to communicate these issues to your employees:

  • Discuss how your organization views the big issues of the day. This shows thought leadership, an appreciation for the big picture, and a recognition that “we’re all in this together.”
  • Explain the potential impact that major policy decisions could have on your business and your employees, using independent data and facts wherever possible. For example, does your organization stand to benefit directly or indirectly from additional economic stimulus packages?
  • Reinforce your core messages. For example, as the health care reform debate rages, this may be an opportunity for you to highlight the robustness of your current health insurance plan.
  • Encourage two-way communication so you understand what people are concerned about, and what needs further explanation.
  • Ensure your employees understand your position. Ask those who agree with you to help get the word out to elected officials and others (but, of course, strong-arm techniques can backfire)

Take the highly controversial topic of climate change, for example: Major legislation is pending in both houses of Congress, and the politics have reached a fever pitch, including several high-profile members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leaving the organization or its board over the Chamber’s opposition to the legislation. By early December, with the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, people everywhere will be overwhelmed with information about climate change and “cap-and-trade” for carbon emissions.

As a result, your employees will have access to more data and information on this topic than they could ever possibly process. What does it all mean, and why should they care? A one- or two-page Q&A or fact sheet from the company, or perhaps a town hall-style meeting or Webinar, could be a difference-maker.

Are there things you want employees to know about the issues of the day? If so, now is the time to tell them, and also to listen.

If you’d like to talk about communicating on tough issues, please contact Lisa Rose at 216-241-4606 or lrose@dix-eaton.com.

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