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How to communicate Brexit

If you are a professional Communicator in the UK, chances are you are working on Brexit Comms right now. Or to put it accurately, you’re trying to plan when there’s seemingly a changing plan. Or no plan.

This post exists to help you plan your Internal Comms. I’ve created some golden rules for you to follow and shared a method I use every time I plan change comms.

Not sure what Brexit is? It is the proposed withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, which is scheduled to take place on 29 March 2019 at 11 pm UK time, when the period for negotiating a Withdrawal Agreement will end unless an extension is agreed.

Conversations about Brexit Comms are rife in the IC world here in the UK. I know my clients and Masterclass attendees are spending a lot of time, money and effort trying to plan, create contingency plans and drawing up Q&A documents for employees, contractors, suppliers, customers and stakeholders.

I did a short poll on Twitter today to see if I can help. The results are pretty conclusive!

What I recommend

I recommend approaching Brexit Comms in the same way we do any other change comms, by getting prepared, gathering evidence and doing your homework.

If you’ve been to my Change Comms Masterclass or worked with me, chances are you’ll have heard me speak about Knowns.

Whenever I’m faced with communicating change, I start by listing out my Known Knowns and Known Unknowns. 

Why? Because what employees are looking for in a change comms situation is clarity, certainty and consistency.

However, if you’ve ever been responsible for communicating change, you’ll know those are often hard to find. I also want to know what lives longer than the change, but that’s a whole other blog post.

If you’ve been tasked with overseeing Brexit Comms, spotting the Knowns has been an impossible task. The list of Unknowns is long and keeps growing. Things that have felt certain have crossed over from Knowns to Unknowns at an alarming pace.

So if you’re responsible and don’t know where to start, or if you’re right in the middle of communicating what’s happening (or potentially happening), take a few minutes to pause, reflect and complete my checklist.

You can download your own copy of my checklist below.

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What are Knowns?

When I’m communicating change, which applies to all sorts of situations, from office moves to restructures, new leadership to new technology, I start by listing out what’s known.

Let’s take communicating an office move as an example.

Knowns may include:

  • We are moving to a new office
  • It will be in London
  • We are moving to save money
  • Our current office lease is expiring
  • It will be within two miles of our current site
  • This particular leader is responsible for the change
  • We will have less desks than we do now
  • We need to introduce hot desking
  • We will have an open plan environment for the first time
  • We will need to inform employees, suppliers, customers etc about the move
  • Employees will be encouraged to work remotely when they can due to the desk situation.


Unknowns may include:

  • The exact location of the building
  • The date of the move (but should be before lease is up)
  • Whether we’ll move in phases or in one go
  • Who will be asked to work remotely
  • Whether it is near a different railway station
  • What the new building will be like
  • Exactly how many desks we will have
  • Whether it is a new building or old one
  • Whether there is car parking
  • If it’s on a cycle route
  • If there will be cycle racks/lockers
  • If we will share the site with someone else
  • What objections our Unions will have
  • Where people will sit in the building.

If you look at those questions, which ones do you think employees will focus on the most? Yup, the unknowns.

What they have in common is the impact on individuals and how they will be directly involved in and impacted by the change.

In my experience, that’s what employees want and need. And that’s what’s the hardest to get details for. But those are the questions employees will ask their line managers in this scenario.

Tip: You need to listen. Don’t assume you can create all the knowns/unknowns – check in with employees, ask them what questions they have. Their valuable insight will help you realise if any are on the wrong list or need to be added. I used to do this when I was in-house and do so now with clients, it helps us burst out of the Comms bubble as we’re often privy to information that we assume people know. You need to check and listen.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to communicate office moves and How to communicate an office move effectively.

In terms of Brexit Comms, those unknowns are the types of questions we all have – what exactly is happening, when, what does it mean for individuals, companies, the economy, the country – the list goes on.

My golden rules for communicating Brexit (or any change)

  1. Provide certainty where you can – that’s what your employees need. Don’t be vague.
  2. Be honest and transparent. If you don’t know something, say so. It’s ok to admit you don’t know everything, don’t lie.
  3. Give certainty of communication, even if you can’t give certainty of content. For example, we will update you at X time, via this weekly email. “When we know, we will let you know” etc.
  4. Open two-way communication channels – listen as much as you speak. Encourage employees to air their views and questions. Listen to rumours and use them to inform your comms – they tell you where the gaps are.
  5. Equip your line managers with the information they need to answer questions. Make sure your line managers feed back queries from employees to a central point (usually Comms) to help you revise information.
  6. Map your stakeholders, audiences and influencers. You need to be certain you’re not missing a group of employees/suppliers/customers. Make sure your influencers or change champions know their role or have opportunities to share their thoughts.
  7. Check for understanding, particularly if your employees are sharing information with customers or clients.
  8. Know what your source of truth is – where can employees get credible, accurate, reliable information from internally? If it’s your line managers or intranet for example, are you treating them in that way? Do they know information first?
  9. Treat concerns seriously. There will be reasons why employees are concerned, do you know what they are?
  10. Measure constantly, don’t wait to the end to discover if your intended outcome has been successful.

I have lots more, but those are the golden ones.

Here’s that checklist again: 

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I hope this helps. Do let me know how you get on.

Further reading about change via the All Things IC blog

Listen to this recent episode of The Internal Comms Procast where I spoke about communicating changes big and small.

 

Get help with Change Comms

My next Change Comms Masterclass is happening on 27 March 2019 – we will be any clearer by then?! Who knows. What I do know is I only have three places left.

Book your place today to come and join me in person in London. Can’t make that date? I’m running it again on 26 June 2019.

If you head over to my Masterclasses pages you’ll spot this new video below, it will guide you through your options…

My upcoming Monthly Masterclasses include:

Thank you as ever for stopping by,

Rachel

First published on the All Things IC blog 13 March 2019.

Comments

  1. This is great Rachel, thank you. I am in the process of drafting a Brexit handling plan for a global manufacturing company. I am really struggling with what guidance to sign post internal stakeholders to. I have reviewed gov.uk today and there is so much.

    Is there any guidance on what will change for employees working in UK from EU – what do we need to do as their employer, what do they need to do? I am working with HR on this piece of course.

    – Customers in the EU
    – importing from the EU materials and exporting our products

    Obviously not knowing if we leave Europe with a deal or without a deal prevents final guidance being issued and completion of Q & As.

    Thank you

    Claire
    Group Communications, Scapa Group Plc, Greater Manchester

  2. Hi Claire, thank you for your message. It’s so confusing isn’t it? Whenever I read guidance, it appears to change when I go back to it. Do check out the resources from IoIC https://www.ioic.org.uk/table/brexit/. The Brexit Hub from CIPD is useful: https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/brexit-hub. I hope this helps, Rachel.

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