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Are some public sector organisations are committing the cardinal communication sin of mixed messages?

by an anonymous guest blogger

We all work to ensure there is consistency and a clear narrative around whatever issue we are talking about. Why? Well the risk of mixed messaging is confusion leading to a lack of trust or even disengagement. An additional concern for all public sector communicators must be that this feeling will spread across other public sector bodies.

We all saw journalists being refused access to a Downing Street briefing a few days ago. The problem in doing this has to be a lack of accountability. It appears to be an attempt to censor the press, to provide messages in a very partisan way and leaving little potential for healthy discussion. Briefings should always be available to all journalists unless in exceptional circumstances but those are few and far between.

So, on one hand there is control being exercised. Yet, with the publication of The Paterson Inquiry report this week we are calling on more employees to speak out about concerns. Ian Paterson was a consultant breast surgeon who was jailed in 2017 for wounding patients with intent. The Inquiry chairman the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, is reported as saying “There was a culture of avoidance and denial, an alarming loss of corporate memory and an offloading of responsibility at every level”.

He also talks of “wilful blindness” and that “many simply avoided or worked round him”. This is where the mixed messaging starts to appear. If people are not to be avoided so that there is accountability and transparency, then it must be the same at all levels of an organisation. The person at the top must be open to questioning, as do senior managers and junior managers. Organisations cannot expect employees to speak out about concerns when they are seeing those at the very top of the business closing their ears to questioning and dismissing challenges.

Public sector leaders must always be open to challenging, listening and never silencing voices they do not like. This will ensure they are aware of issues and concerns, and they really understand public views about the organisation and the way it works.

Image via George Eastman Museum

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