The well-known Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw had once famously remarked, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
His statement could be perceived to be relevant for the late nineteenth or early twentieth century when means to communicate in real-time were limited and largely face-to-face. The advent of mass media and its rapid evolution to a state of technology-induced hypermedia in the 21st century has potentially negated the possibility of any illusion that Bernard Shaw referred to! The need to be always ON and be in an ever-responsive and communicative state has ensured that over-communication became a rule rather than an exception, especially in the last couple of decades.
Interestingly, two terms fascinated the global business community in the early part of the 21st century, the ‘world wide web’ and ‘VUCA’ (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) – and both made their impact on communications.
However, in the last 24 odd months, given the scale of disruption and the emergence of the new normal, VUCA has seemed like an inadequate descriptor for the post-Covid-19 world.
A new acronym, BANI, is fast taking VUCA’s place as a more appropriate descriptor of the post-pandemic world. Coined by American anthropologist, author and futurist Jamais Cascio, BANI stands for brittle, anxious, non-linear and incomprehensible.
In my view, the communications function has a real onus to guide their boardroom on realigning traditional approaches to communication and helping leaders create and deliver more authentic and enduring messaging for this new world.
What is BANI?
Let’s analyse BANI and its impact on the future of communications. Systems that seem to work well on the surface, despite looking reliable, maybe ‘Brittle’ and on the verge of breaking down! An organization or an economy may give the impression of being strong and sturdy, but a critical point of failure can lead to a sudden and unprecedented collapse – a case in point being the situation with some of India’s neighbours.
Unarguably, the world is a more ‘Anxious’ place than ever before – there is the fear of the unknown in people and businesses, and the phenomenon of spotting bad news over good has picked up! ‘Non-linearity’ is the third leg of BANI and it implies that cause and consequence are no longer a given – small decisions can have disproportionate (read devastating) impact while planned efforts fizzle out. And finally, the world is a more ‘Incomprehensible’ place than before – some events lack logic or purpose and despite having information and tons of data on hands it does not equal finding the right answer or making the right prediction.
How to align executive communications with BANI
Executive communication must evolve to align with mindsets in a BANI. Business leaders who have been over time trained to restrain emotions and ‘act’ resilient, are increasingly expected to exhibit empathy, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness when they communicate, both internally and externally. Grandiose external comms laced with superlatives that became the hallmark of every press announcement in the last decade are less acceptable today - use cases, firm evidence and proof-points are a must have!
Consumers and customers are more respectful of leadership communication that is bold and fearless – there’s no appetite for failure masked with a glossy PR narrative, conversely, leadership internal communication avenues must make space for difficult and candid exchanges, which have traditionally been a c-suite perquisite.
A Mckinsey & Co report titled 'Reimaging the post-pandemic organization', encourages leaders to take a stand on purpose – aggressive business goals often force leadership teams to overlook communicating steps taken to meet organizational purpose.
As per the report “If the pandemic is teaching us anything, it’s that people and organizations are interconnected and responsible to one another and to society in ways beyond short-term earnings.”
And therefore, shared success stories, human interest stories, spontaneous shoutouts and use cases are more desired inclusions in leadership comms vs. quarterly targets or reiteration of surplus goals only.
Finally, there is a need to ensure that leaders develop the ability to distil complex comms into simple and memorable chunks. Intricate details and complex jargons must be junked for taglines, interesting slogans, and sticky acronyms.
Amit Gupta is a PR and a public policy professional and runs the Reppro, a reputation advisory firm.