Resolve to communicate effectively in 2021

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Originally published by Columbus Business First Leadership Trust

As the world has said goodbye to 2020 (and thank goodness for that), a chaotic and disrupted year has provided lessons for business communications. In working through challenges around health and safety, around essential work and politics, and around social justice and racism, the communications muscle has been exercised in 2020 like never before. From those lessons, a strong set of 2021 New Year’s resolutions can create a firm foundation to effectively share information.

  • Provide clarity – The best communications are clear and concise. In an era of “unprecedented times”, it is easy to add unnecessary language. Make sure the lead sentences of written work quickly get to the point. Never assume a reader will read to the end. Brevity helps assure the message is read; clarity helps assure it is understood.
  • Remember internal communications – In the haste of responding to external audiences (media, regulators, shareholders), employees can end up a neglected stakeholder. Yet, internal teams often are the most in need of relevant, timely communications, and when they are informed, it benefits culture and morale, while also providing reassurance and employer confidence.
  • Frequent measured bursts – Audiences have been inundated with emails, newscasts, social media and other reports over the past year. The best communications happen in frequent, measured bursts – snack-sized chunks of information that are easily digested. Keeping audiences front and center with appropriate, timely messages matters.
  • Do not be lazy – In an attempt to communicate swiftly, it is easy to get lazy. Look for markers of lazy writing – repeated language, limited explanation, jarring announcements with no context, unnecessary language – and avoid them. Important communications should be outlined before writing. Taking the extra time to think through the message benefits the communicator and the audience.
  • Avoid cliches and overused phrases – During COVID-19, phrases were duplicated across brands, across platforms and in written materials. “Now more than ever”, “new normal” and “in this together” appeared in every communication. Other phrases, like “thoughts and prayers”, had become exhausted long before coronavirus. Find ways to communicate with a unique and authentic voice.
  • Try new platforms – A key lesson of the past year is that many communications vehicles are cluttered, and companies had a hard time breaking through. Creating private channels for key audiences – Facebook groups or company intranet sites, for example – can help. Email marketing found new effectiveness – and open rates for emails improved across the industry.
  • Take every chance to incorporate values – Communications should leverage the values of a company or brand whenever possible. Empathy has a strong role in sharing information following the events of 2020. Values-based messages amplify the purpose of an organization to remind stakeholders why they matter and that brands care about them. Values alignment also enhances the effectiveness of how audiences receive those communications.
  • Consistent and aligned – Speaking of values, a death-knell for communications is when what is said does not align with the values of the company or its stakeholders; it leads to misunderstanding and distrust of a company or brand. Every position that is taken, every message that is shared should be consistent with the organization’s stated values to build confidence and trust.

Above all, companies and brands should communicate whenever it is needed with a goal of being concise and effective. Worry less about frequency and more about appropriateness. If a message is relevant and necessary – then it is right to share it. It is smart to have a cadenced plan for rolling out information, and be prepared to deviate, as needed, to address unanticipated communications.

Communications is a journey, and 2020 was a chapter like no other. Establishing and maintaining best communications practices in an organization that reflect the learnings of the past year will position companies and brands for success in 2021.