Across every measurement in this year's Togetherness Index, government communication and the Federal and State’s ability to influence and change behaviour dropped significantly. The question is why, and what can be done about it?
To be fair, the situation we face globally is new, challenging and there is no playbook. The Australian political system with federal and state political differences hasn’t made it easier. The answer, though, could lie in four tried and trusted reputation management principles:
- Do what you say you will do. Don’t say one thing – and do something else. This is evident in messaging about the vaccine roll out. We face a barrage of messages but a steady erosion of trust because of what has followed. Of course, this has an impact on the public’s view of the roll out but also personal reputations. Mixed messages, followed by different actions, results in people turning elsewhere for information. From the Togetherness Index research, it is clear people have turned to family, friends and sources online.
- Be prepared to acknowledge faults and take the blame when you get it wrong. Fess up when you mess up. Many have an aversion to admitting fault because of the risk of being politically vulnerable if they do. And yet, we know in unique circumstances, it’s OK to mess up from time to time. The problem comes when leaders want to hang onto the mantle of being a credible, trustworthy source, but fail to admit errors. They need to acknowledge their mistakes and then move quickly to the necessary corrective action.
- You’ll never please everyone so always acknowledge different perspectives empathetically. The findings of the Togetherness Index (TI) last year indicated there was more kindness, care and empathy going around. It indicated we were more united in our fight against the pandemic and certainly more attuned to receiving and acting on government communication.
But in one year this has changed. In part, this is because of the lack of clarity from our government, infighting, and various versions of the truth portrayed by media. This is rubbing off on the Australian public. There is also plenty of misinformation floating around. We have ended up with a more divisive approach to how we overcome the pandemic and motivate people to get vaccinated.
4. Be transparent, authentic and act with integrity. The Australian public has a good BS filter, so when you add a mix of half-truths and political point scoring, it further undermines reputation and widens the trust deficit.
The path governments have had to walk in the past year has been almost impossible. So, it is no wonder there have been communication issues. There is, however, a way to reunite and rebuild our ‘togetherness’ in how we fight the pandemic, but it requires the Federal and State governments to align around a common purpose and improve their ability to meet expectations. Alternatively, they should reduce the expectations by under, and not over-promising.
The TI findings indicate that expectations of the Australian public continue to change, and the bar has been raised in other countries as some governments start winning in their fight against the virus.
It is against this new bar our government’s reputation will be measured. We need to come together to make it happen. We need to act in the best interests of all, with empathy, in this lucky country of ours.