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Planning a journey in thick fog

Heather Claycomb

In the early 90s I lived in Davis, California and worked 25km away in Sacramento.  The winters are similar to Hamilton: rainy, cool but not freezing and infamously foggy.  It wasn’t uncommon to drive to and from work in the dark at very slow speed, gripping the steering wheel for dear life on those foggy days. 

I then moved from Sacramento to the mountains west of Denver where fog was also a common occurrence. Spring often brought huge snowstorms, and once the snow began evaporating in warmer temperatures, enormous fog clouds would last for days.  I can remember driving once through snowy slush with my car door open so I could watch the ground for the edge of the road as it was impossible to see even a few centimetres in front of my windscreen.

If you’ve ever driven in thick fog, you know it’s tricky.  You need to stay alert, be ready to dodge unforeseen obstacles and remain nimble so you can change course quickly. 

Is it just me, or have you also felt that planning anything in 2020 has been like planning a long journey in thick fog?  No one can predict what’s happening in the world tomorrow, next week or next month.  And if you can’t clearly see the road, how can you navigate from ‘here’ to ‘there?’

Whether it is business or communications planning, when I reflect on the skills it takes to navigate in thick fog, there are some crucial driving rules that translate:

Be okay with uncertainty

You really don’t have a choice, now do you?  Suck it up, enjoy the adventure and have faith that if you keep moving you will eventually reach your destination.

With your business and communication planning, right now I believe it’s important to be flexible and open to change.  What worked yesterday may not work today or tomorrow.  But instead of getting in a tizzy about it, take a deep breath and change tack.

Don’t sit still

If you brake quickly, or God-forbid stop, on an expressway in dense fog you’ll be sure to cause an almighty pile-up.  One important rule is keep moving.  You may not keep moving straight ahead – you might move sideways or even do a U-turn.  But to stay alive, you need to avoid analysis paralysis and freezing up with fear.

In uncertain times, you may be tempted to put your operations or communications in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens.  But doing so gives your competition the chance to one-up you, or it just might mean a huge delay in achieving goals.  Right now, doing nothing in business and with your communications is not an option.

(BTW: the largest car pile-up in California history was 216 vehicles causing 41 injuries in 2002.)

Don’t go too fast

Moving too fast while driving in fog will spell disaster. 

When the road is unclear in business, it is a great time to regroup, take time to think about where you are heading and carefully plot a revised course.  And when it comes to your communications, take a look at how you’re communicating with staff, customers and your community and figure out a way to do it better.

Be ready to turn at any moment

When driving in fog, you may instinctively know that a left or right turn is coming up at some point, but the visibility can play with your distance discernment.  You must remain alert and ready to switch course at any moment, taking clues from familiar signs and landmarks along the way.

In communications planning post-Covid, we need to be ever vigilant to understand public mood, community expectations and even new language and messaging being created around us.  As the course shifts and changes, we need to shift with it to ensure our plans and tactics are relevant.

Passenger safety matters most

At the end of the day, one thing matters most on the journey: ensuring those in your care arrive safely at the final destination. 

In tough times, teams need a strong and confident leader.  Your staff, stakeholders and your community want a leader who is visible, providing words of assurance, being a calming and motivating influence with their words and actions.  

This Covid-19 world is an uncertain one, and the only guarantee is that it’s far from over.  So, strap in, put on your fog lights and remember these important driving rules as you navigate along the way.