3 big communications issues that demand our attention — and yours

RCG owner Jim Ylisela offers insights into how the pandemic changed the focus for corporate communicators, specifically as it relates to DE&I, ESG and culture.

By Jim Ylisela

In early 2020, a Ragan Communications survey of almost 800 communicators found most of them upbeat and largely satisfied with their work.

Some were a little fuzzy about their budgets, and many had no plans to audit the state of their communications. Others could not recall when they had last updated their crisis comms plans.

They dreamed of more staff and better intranets. Their gripes were the classic ones: siloed communications, long approval processes, more order taking than strategic counselling. Some said they were looking at Microsoft Teams as a new tool.

Who knew what a difference a pandemic would make?

The last 18 months have fundamentally transformed how companies operate – and how they communicate. By March 2020, the issues at the top of a communicator’s to-do list were quickly jettisoned in favor of more immediate, pressing concerns.

Communicators were forced to “pivot” — a term that seemed really cool.  Until we all began to loathe it.

That was certainly the case over here at Ragan Consulting Group. After all, we’re consultants and trainers. We come to you. COVID-19 made us all stay home. We got on the horn (Zoom/Teams/Webex, etc.) to tackle the big questions: How do you communicate effectively with employees who are working from home? How do you reach  others deemed essential that had to stay on the job, often at risk?

Did our clients have the right tools? Most important, did they have the right message? Employee comms became a daily function — often, several times a day. —  Seemingly overnight, internal communicators became the strategists they always yearned to be, working side-by-side with their executives to keep their organizations moving.

But the pandemic did something else. It altered time. As much as life seemed to slow down, the need for communications sped up. And three vital issues pushed their way to the top of every organization’s priority list, and they have been there ever since:

Diversity, equity & inclusion. After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, organizations scrambled to show their commitment to DE&I, though few knew what that really meant in practice.

Companies have been talking about diversity for years, but at a very superficial level — what an old boss of mine used to deride as “food, folklore and famous people” during FILL IN THE BLANK Month.

We developed an ambitious and precise methodology to measure a company’s DE&I “IQ,” only to discover that organizations didn’t want us to tell them what they already knew: They were bad at this. They needed immediate help, starting with the basics.

Our marvelous DE&I consultant, @Kim Clark, started virtual trainings, teaching people about unconscious bias, how to handle microaggressions in the workplace and assemble an inclusive language guide.

But change doesn’t operate on the same timetable it once did. Saying you care about diversity is admirable, but today companies have to actually do something about it —– and that includes the equity and inclusion parts, too. We’re working with them on that.

Environmental, Social and Governance. ESG seems to have come out of nowhere, though it has been with us for years. It is the newest must-do on every communicator’s plate, though many don’t even know it yet. That’s because ESG has been the sole province of the investor relations communicators, who don’t spend much time talking to their comms siblings.

ESG is about more than bulky sustainability reports and broad commitments to reduce your carbon footprint. It’s about your values as an organization. @Tom Corfman, who heads our ESG practice, puts it this way: “Who cares about ESG? Turns out everyone does.”

If you’re paying attention to such measures as Edelman’s excellent Trust Barometer, you know that customers, employees and communities care deeply about sustainability, diversity and transparency.

We’re helping our clients translate all those numbers and technical jargon into compelling stories that resonate with all those audiences.

Culture. Company culture is one of those things people have been talking about forever, but in a fuzzy, feel-good kind of way.

Forget about employee engagement. We’re way past that. Culture is now a thing — and it may be the biggest issue facing companies today. This is about hanging on to the talent you have, and recruiting new talent to join your team.

In August, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, looking for new opportunities, better pay or flexible working conditions. Nothing fuzzy about that.

What makes a culture? How has the culture changed when the workplace has shifted to, well, everywhere? My colleague @Kristin Graham is all over this one.

To me, these big honking issues tie back to what we do best: help organizations assess the state of their communications, both internally and externally; and work with their communicators to do their best storytelling to all their audiences.

If you’re one of our current clients, thank you for working with us. For our past clients, take a look at how we can help you in new ways. And for anyone else reading this, try RCG on for size. You know where to find us.

RCG specializes in corporate communications training, consulting and strategic counsel. Schedule a call with Tom Corfman to learn how we can help you improve your communications efforts. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here and subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

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