By Andrea Jastrebski
2020’s now behind us, but the learnings, the changes, and the new way of doing our work continue to colour everything we are doing in 2021. I’m paraphrasing how director of communications at Kal Tire, Tracy Cobb, sees the next six months in the communications field. Recently, Cobb shared with us how Kal Tire accomplished multiple communications reworkings in 2020 and provided some insights for leveraging last year’s changes into 2021.
In similar posts, I’ve interviewed leading communications practitioners, and we’ve talked about communications strategy. This week, Cobb shares with us what strategy looked like for Kal Tire in 2020. Cobb led the team at Kal Tire with a strategy to listen and learn first. She explained, “When COVID started to have an impact in Canada and around the world, we as a team started by listening closely to what our government and health authorities were advising, tuning in to every press conference to hear real-time information.” The strategy to listen cohesively was needed to ensure the communications team was keeping Kal Tire team members informed on a timely basis.
As Kal Tire is deemed an essential service, the priority was the safety and health of team members and customers. They had to look for new channels of communication that would make being informed of ever-changing safety protocols easier for everyone.
Kal Tire worked quickly to adapt the delivery, frequency, and volume of information. Early on, they leveraged what they call the Operations Portal (a web portal used by their stores to receive information) by adding a COVID-19 Updates section to enable transparent communication while supporting the volume of communication happening daily. Cobb explains, “The benefit of adding this section is that team members can access the most recent information and updates about day-to-day operations and the protocols in place without having to scan through emails. With the situation changing daily, our portal manages frequent communication changes, helps reduce information fatigue and offers solutions to problems.” However, the communications didn’t just focus on safety protocols, they also had a plan for frequent communications from senior leadership so team members felt informed about the state of the company and how they were managing through COVID. Since the portal only reaches a certain population of their team members, Cobb’s team quickly brainstormed on other ways to connect with more people in the organization.
The Kal Tire communications team enhanced its digital strategy to support the communications strategy. For the first time, Kal Tire used Facebook as an internal communications channel to connect with all team members and keep them informed. (You’re right, I said internal.) With Kal Tire having more than 200 locations and 4,600 team members in Canada, the decision to begin using Facebook was a major win for Kal’s culture in 2020. Cobb explains, “We received instant positive feedback from our team members. We also started posting videos twice a week from our president and members of our senior management team and the engagement they received showed us team members were listening and appreciative of being informed. We are now listening and responding more than ever.”
While being connected to more team members was the Facebook play’s goal, the subsequent benefits of camaraderie and connection are spilling over into the digital strategy for 2021. Cobb explains, “Using social media to see and hear everyone has enabled stronger connection and support for us. We are supporting each other and working together more than we ever have. We don’t want to lose this engagement. We will continue to build on this and keep the momentum going past COVID.”
Cobb also mentioned a final strategy they employed which was knowing when to change the tone of the communications throughout a pandemic. She shares, “In the early days, it was more like crisis communications, ensuring everyone had the facts they needed as quickly and as frequently as possible. Within a few months, it was time to start recognizing the scope of change everyone was going through, demonstrating empathy for the impact it was having and encouraging people to keep up with the safety protocols. By fall of last year even greater acknowledgement was required for the mental health challenges the pandemic was creating, ensuring people knew where to get assistance if they needed it. And all through this continuing to find a way to motivate people, to assure them that together we’ll get through this. Understanding what our team members needed to hear from us was critical to keeping them engaged and staying the course.”
Cobb’s reminder is that we’re all still working through these pandemic times but new tools and practices are emerging and should be leveraged. As we plan communications strategies for 2021, we have this excellent opportunity to continue to listen to our stakeholders daily, form partnerships and networks of support and encouragement, be innovative and creative, and offer new ways to communicate compassion and inspire hope in our organizations. A sincere thank you, Tracy Cobb, for sharing with us at IABC/Calgary.