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As Keane sang “Everybody’s changing and I don’t feel the same”. 
Change is all around us, affecting everything. Our daily lives are unrecognisable from six months ago. We’ve been in lockdown and everyone is coping with change in every aspect of their lives. The way we communicate has never been more important.

This applies to Government too. And they are making mistakes. From a once simple and clearly understood message of “stay at home” we moved to the more ambiguous “stay alert”. A phrase open to personal interpretation that resulted in behavioural change, a rise in Covid-19 cases and the re-introduction of lockdown in some areas. Rises in cases in certain towns is also being blamed on communication, with language barriers being cited as a major problem.

This would seem to be a classic case of our leaders not understanding their audiences and failing to fit the communication to specifically address the challenges and needs of each of those audiences.

So, what lessons can the pensions industry learn from how we have been communicated to by the Government during this pandemic?

There are a number of simple rules that, if followed, will significantly increase the likely success of any communication.

·       Plan well and in good time. Time spent in planning for success will be time well spent.

·       Understand the outcome you want to achieve. Ask yourself what you want people to know as a result of the communications they receive, what you
want them to feel, and particularly important, what you want them to do.

·       Know your various audiences and use the right communication channels and tools to reach each of them. Don’t assume that a one size fits all approach will deliver the outcomes you want. That is rarely the case.

·       Have clear messages. If people don’t understand the messages you are communicating then they are unlikely to behave in the way you want

·       Deliver the messages to the various audiences in their language and in a tone that resonates with them.

·       Measure the effect that your communications are having. Measure the behaviours and if they’re not what you want, change how you’re communicating to increase your chances of success.

These are good rules for communicating anything but if you are communicating change, then they become even more important. Moving forward, it is inevitable that things are going to be different and we will likely see some change in the pensions landscape. Schemes may look at changing benefit structures to manage liabilities and costs for the future. Whatever the change is, it needs to be communicated well, with the member at the heart of everything.

By its very nature, change elicits a highly emotional response and getting the delivery right can determine the difference between acceptance and resistance, fear and comfort. Remember that being clear about what we want people to know, feel and do about the change is essential in helping that change happen and leading people to behave as we want.

Scheme’s looking to change benefits need to keep lines of communication open to build trust – silence builds suspicion. A well-executed consultation process can increase a member’s sense of engagement with their scheme and also lead to increased understanding. I have often heard comments from members in a change situation that although they didn’t particularly like the change itself, how the change was communicated and the care that the trustees took to communicate well was particularly appreciated.

Effective communications ensure that people are fully informed, know how they are affected and feel supported.

Timely, supportive, communications are key to delivering potentially difficult news. It’s essential to speak in a tone of voice that has clarity, respect and sensitivity at its heart, and instils a sense of confidence.

I’ve been involved in many scheme change consultations and communication projects. These rules have never let me down.

Whilst we navigate our way out of this pandemic we all need to think about how we can get communication right. If we succeed, we increase our chances
of coming out of this a better society and more caring individuals with stronger relationships with friends, families and our work colleagues.

Getting communication right is the responsibility of everyone - individuals and Governments alike.

Karen Bolan, Head of Engagement, AHC , a Gallagher company