Engaging with the community during construction.

We’re proud of the community engagement work we’ve done for our clients over the years, which (among other things) has allowed us to nip more than a few issues in the bud that otherwise could have become major problems.

But aside from issues and complaints management, have you ever wondered WHY it is so important for us to engage with the community in the first place – especially after the project has been approved and is already in construction stage?

Here are just a few of the many reasons we engage during construction:

1. Poor or no engagement can significantly impact a project’s programs and budgets.
Escalating complaints, community outrage, protests, media and ministerial involvement are just some of the things that you can mitigate with well planned, appropriate, and meaningful engagement.

2. Not engaging with the community can have serious long-term impacts on the community’s health and wellbeing.
Time and money aside, we do it because it is the right thing to do.

3. Effective communication and engagement from the start helps set the tone for involvement in the project.
By managing expectations and clarifying up front what is and is not up for negotiation instead of waiting for issues to arise, you can save time and effort down the track. “Proactive” is a community engagement team’s middle name. 

4. Trust. ‘Licence to operate’. Potential for repeat business with a happy client. Opportunities to do better (whoa! four reasons for the price of one).
Community engagement is not about avoiding complaints, but when done well, it allows you to handle complaints in a way that can lead to mutually positive outcomes and a better way forward.

5. It is also a fundamental civic right for the community to be involved in or aware of decisions and projects that will impact them. 
At Becscomm, we love what we do and have an excellent team of experienced and passionate community engagement consultants ready to help you with your next project. Our core purpose is your success!

Give us a call for your next project and let us help pave the way for a project that is on time, on budget and accepted by your stakeholders. 

Post Credit: Amanda Mikhael – Senior Engagement + Communications Consultant @ Becscomm

Community engagement over the last 2 years – what we are keeping and what we are throwing out.

Over the last two years, we learnt how to adapt to a new normal and overcome the challenges that affected our projects and the communities we work with. We don’t want to spend time dwelling on the challenges, instead we choose to reflect on what we discovered about our work and ourselves. By doing this, we can pave a way forward in our practice as communication professionals, more equipped and resilient than before. 
Our passionate team at Becscomm have recalled personal insights from their experience working during an unpredictable two years on the community front line.  Here are some simple pieces of wisdom to keep you inspired while you continue the meaningful work in community engagement.

The intrinsic need for personal connection is more essential than ever  
“The increase of social isolation over the last two years has challenged the way we engage with communities. Nothing will ever replace human connection and face-to-face engagement. It remains the most effective way to listen to the important voices of the community – without risking technical error or misunderstanding.”
Suzanne Von Kolpakow, Becscomm Consultant
When it comes to getting to the core of the problem, nothing is more meaningful than personal interaction. Communicating in-person is essential for building trust and understanding the emotions underneath our concerns and behaviours. Where reasonable and safe to do so, go the extra mile for community members and stakeholders by meeting them in person.
Digital tools will stand the test of time if we use them with intention
“Digital tools that were necessary during the pandemic have now become part of our permanent engagement toolkit. In some cases, tools like digital breakout rooms and online whiteboards have improved community participation by encouraging interaction for people who may feel unheard in face-to-face setting that can favour the loudest voice.”
Amanda Mikhael, Becscomm Senior Consultant 
Now that we’ve mastered the basics, we can use digital tools and techniques more intentionally. The key is to think about the additional value they can add to both an audience and an engagement program, and use them to your advantage.
Before including digital tools in your engagement design, ask questions such as: Is your tool inclusive and accessible? Will everyone have an opportunity to be involved? How can you ensure the tool will provide meaningful and usable results?
The power of self-compassion will lead to better outcomes for everyone  
It’s no secret that almost everyone felt symptoms of burnout over the last two years. This affected not only our performance, but also our patience, empathy, and responsiveness to others. All traits essential to doing our job well.
From my own experience when I wasn’t meeting my own needs, it was much harder to collaborate and communicate effectively with others. Something as simple as leaving the phone at home and going for a 30-minute walk made a huge difference.
Take some time out each day to do something solely for yourself and ensure your needs are met. Then you can tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This can empower how you communicate with others.
Our Managing Director, Rebecca Spencer, is a fierce advocate for addressing the very real issue of burnout in our industry. She provides her top 6 tips for staying ahead of burnout in this previous blog: https://becscomm.com.au/2019/12/09/protests-picket-lines-and-personal-attacks/

Post Credit: Callum Roberts – Engagement + Communications Consultant @ Becscomm

Make it accessible: remove barriers to engagement with accessible and inclusive communication

Did you know that almost 45% of Australian adults have difficulty reading?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), around one in eight Australian adults are functionally illiterate, reading at an OECD Level 1 or below. That means about 12% of adults may not be able to read bus or train timetables or understand their payslip.

It’s a shocking statistic but also an important issue for communications folk because when people don’t understand the information presented to them they are likely to feel excluded and disengage.

If your goal is to keep people properly informed about your project (which is critical if your work impacts them directly), or if you want to encourage participation in engagement activities, it is so important that the way you communicate is both accessible and inclusive.

There are many reasons why people may not be able to access, read or understand the information you communicate – disability, access to higher education and English proficiency are just a few.

Accessible and inclusive communication benefits everyone; it doesn’t only apply to people who have difficulty reading. In fact, people who read at university level or higher are about as likely to engage with overly wordy or unnecessarily complicated information as people who can’t read at all.

Accessible and inclusive means your message meets everyone’s communication needs. It is designed so that all audience members understand the information you are sharing.

It doesn’t mean dumbing things down or leaving out important information.

Here are some quick tips for accessible and inclusive project communication:
– Never (ever) assume a person’s level of awareness or understanding, or their ability to access and read information.
– If it is practical to do so, ask people how they would prefer to communicate with you.
– For written communication that requires or invites a response, include both email and phone contact information to support individual communication needs or preferences.
– Keep sentences and paragraphs short and stick to one idea at a time.
– Use visual aids and infographics where possible.

When planning written communication activities, consider:
– What is the purpose of this communication?
– Who needs this information? Why?
– Will everyone be able to access it? How?
– Is it clear and free from jargon and slang?
– If technical or industry terminology can’t be avoided, is it properly explained?
– Does everyone have the technology required to access it?
– Can alternative formats be made available (for example printed and digital, different languages, large print, audio)?
– If digital, does it meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)?
Making sure your communication is accessible and inclusive for all members of the community is simple; but like so many things, it’s not easy. Becscomm consultants have extensive experience in project communication and community engagement on a range of construction and infrastructure projects across all communities. Get in touch to see how we can help your project engage and connect with the community in more meaningful ways.

Post Credit: Amanda Mikhael – Senior Engagement + Communications Consultant @ Becscomm

How you can make the most of the latest COVID-19 shutdown.

The recent pause on construction across Greater Sydney has massive and far-reaching impacts, with some experts now estimating costs to the NSW economy to reach up to a billion dollars for each week construction sites remain in lockdown across Sydney.
We know in times of crisis project communication and engagement remains as important as ever – but with tools down for the next two weeks, what does this mean for comms teams on major projects across Sydney?
Here are our top 5 tips and suggestions for a productive pause:

Reach out – everyone is doing it tough right now, including the communities we work in. A sensitive and appropriate approach to communicating with the local community is critical, however a simple email to check in, a newsletter update or a phone call to highly impacted stakeholders can go a long way to connecting and building trust with your community, even during lockdown.

2.       Plan and prepare – get your team together for a virtual brainstorming session and plan your post-lockdown engagement activities for the rest of the year. As devastating as the pandemic has been to so many businesses, projects and people, it has also led to some innovative and clever ways to engage with the community.

3.       Engage inward – mental and physical health is always important but even more so with the added stress of a global health pandemic and lockdown. Check in with your team, yourself, your colleagues and industry peers. There can never be too many ‘RUOK’ days in the age of Covid-19.

4.       Review and clean up your community and stakeholder database. Or just get on top of all the non-urgent but important admin we all never seem to have time for. You can’t put it off forever!

5.       Review or audit your current communications and engagement systems and processes. We all do it: at the start of a project we have the best of intentions to regularly review our systems and processes, but rarely in the fast-paced world of construction do we get a chance to really stop and thoroughly reflect. A lot has changed in the way we engage over the past 18 months and now is the perfect time to properly update systems and processes to incorporate the “new normal”.
Need help? We’re here for you.

IWD 2021: Determined to lead the way for change

Rebecca reflects on her career and what it means to her on IWD 2021

As International Women’s Day rolls around again and I reflect on the past 20 years of my career, immersed in predominantly male-dominated industries, it is hard not to think about the challenges myself and many of my female colleagues have faced.

As a female leader in the severely under-represented construction and transport industry, it is probably best not to think too hard or long about all the times we’ve been overlooked for opportunities – excused by outdated beliefs about women’s leadership abilities; or all those times we’ve been blatantly paid less than our male counterparts for doing the exact same job – for some pretty shonky reasons, too (link to ABC article). 

Better still, best not go down the rabbit hole of our collective and shocking experiences of inequality in the workplace – the subtly sexist undermining of women, like at the beginning of my own career in television when I was required to collect my (male) manager’s dry cleaning and lunch – something that was not in my job description and certainly not something asked of my male colleagues at the same level.

It’s tempting to get angry; maybe a little bitter. And I must admit that is a very real feeling at times. But more than that, when it comes to gender equality and representation in the workplace, I’m inspired by how far we have come, motivated by how much further we have to go, and even more determined to lead the way for change.

Life is a collection of experiences and one of my own that had an especially pronounced impact on me – that later inspired my journey to start my own business – involved me sitting in a corporate conference of a major construction company listening to the male leaders on stage talking about recent company success and upcoming projects. One senior leader in particular spoke with pride about how revered and respected the company was within the industry. All very inspiring. During question time a female employee asked the leaders why there was little representation of women in the business. His response was a very dismissive “probably because the men like to swear and women don’t like swearing”.

If you’ve ever met me, you would know I love a good swear. So, the moment those words reached my ears I called, well, bullshit.

What a shame that, in what could have otherwise been an inspiring and exciting update from one of the most senior representatives of this massive company, instead of using his position of influence to address the gaping hole in the business and industry, this important question (and the woman who asked it) was dismissed, undermined and reduced to yet another sexist ideal.

There are so many things I wish he had said instead: that swearing had very little to do with the systemic sexism responsible for the lack of women in the industry; that there were almost no female leaders to model career progression on or to mentor other women; that major corporations such as this one made a habit of making redundancies of women on maternity leave; that the unnecessarily inflexible working hours of 7am to 6pm were inconducive to working parents (mostly women) faced with drop-off/pick-up responsibilities, or that almost none of the project roles outside of administrative functions are part time or job share, adding even more boundaries to parents wishing returning to work.

Of course, it would have been nice if he had said those things, but I wish even more that I was able to stand up and say it, because in his defence it is difficult – if not impossible – for someone to properly understand and articulate an experience that is not their own. Instead, I sat there in silence with my jaw on the floor. At the time, admittedly I didn’t feel able to speak out of fear that I would be met with eyerolls and deemed an emotional female in a room full of men.

Not being brave enough to stand up and speak out is one of my biggest career regrets, but also the beginning of a new career direction for me.

I interpret this year’s IWD theme of “challenge” as a polite way of saying “let’s use our anger and all of our experiences to drive proper change”. Equality cannot be achieved without the buy-in of both women and men. I strongly believe equality starts at home and as leaders we need to step up to ensure that all our people have the equal ability to share family responsibilities. Cultural change is only possible if both women and men are supported and encouraged to respond equally to the needs of the home.

I challenge leaders and business owners with these questions: do you expect and encourage your male team members to stay home when the children are sick or have a commitment just as you do your women employees? When a man comes to you and asks to work a part time arrangement, would you give him the same consideration as you would a woman? Are men in your business offered an equal paternity leave arrangement as your women employees? Do you consider out of the box alternative working arrangements such as job sharing / work from home / working school hours to hire the absolute best person for the role? Because if you are not considering these things you are not committed to equality – you are potentially missing out on incredible talent and your business is lacking because if it.

So, when I started my own business, I knew it was crucial that I create a culture of equality and diversity. Both women and men in my business are supported and encouraged to tend to life commitments outside of work; we have part time workers and equal parental leave opportunities. No one in my business will ever have to accept that they can’t contribute based on their gender, cultural background or because they have a family. We focus on output rather than hours and we challenge the status quo every time we hire talent.

We can turn experience into action and action into change – together.

5 steps to successful tendering

Helping our clients win work is one of our favourite things to do! Rebecca has been involved in some of Australia’s largest and most complex tender submissions for operations and maintenance, road, rail, ferries, power supply upgrades and major water treatment projects. Over the years she’s seen it all – wins, losses and everything in between. Below she has provided her top five tips for delivering a successful tender submission:

1. A ‘one team’ approach is the best team approach. These days most major projects are delivered as joint ventures or PPPs. As always, it comes down to leadership. Teams who haven’t attempted to merge together and develop a united identity really struggle from the start. It quickly becomes clear which JV teams are simply not on the same page. My clients who invest time and resources in developing a unified team generally become winners. It can be difficult, especially with short timeframes, but I strongly believe a winning formula involves a dedicated and experienced bid manager, clear responsibilities, a set of robust systems to communicate across teams, taking time to get to know each other and a set of shared goals that are developed as an entire team. 

2. A dedicated tender team is a winning tender team. Too often I have tried to work with a subject matter expert who is doing their day job while also attempting to throw together a tender schedule for a major project in their spare time. Most times they end up failing at both.

3. Make it original. Cutting and pasting from previous submissions is a lazy way to develop a response – and it stands out. My clients who invest in tender resources (strategy/management/writing/SMEs) are often the most successful ones because they truly understand the requirements and tailor a submission based on the specifics of each project. 

4. Understand who your competition is. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Can you offer something unique that will differentiate you to your competition? Once you know who they are, then it’s time for your team to focus on your solution and all that it will offer.

5. Understand who is going to be reading your responses. So, you know who you are up against, but do you know who will be reading and assessing your submission? What are their drivers? What is their understanding of your subject area? Understand this and your response will hit the mark every time.

Protests, picket lines and personal attacks.

So, you’ve heard about burnout – but what exactly is it? How does it affect you? How can you avoid it? As an engagement practitioner, a leader and someone who has been affected by burnout I have dedicated time to finding out more and starting an honest-but-critical discussion about burnout within the community engagement space.

The best description I’ve come across that sums up burnout explains it as a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel emotionally drained, overwhelmed and unable or unwilling to meet constant demands. Eventually, you feel disengaged, distressed, or simply like you have nothing more to give.

My symptoms of burnout encompassed all of the above.

A metaphor that describes my burnout experience involves me running a race too hard, too fast, for too long and placing too much pressure (on myself) to win. My focus on the race came before other important things in my life. One day, I couldn’t and no longer wanted to keep up the pace, but I didn’t know how to get off the track.

The end of my race came after a decade of being a public-facing engagement practitioner, working a high-pressure job on a high-profile project, all while juggling being a mum of two small kids and commuting four hours a day. My mental and physical well-being had deteriorated and so had the tolerance of my family, my friends and my colleagues.

But get this – I wasn’t the only one. In a recent survey of community engagement practitioners conducted by Becscomm, it showed that 82.2% of respondents had experienced burnout. I started noticing a trend amongst colleagues in the industry; and it became clear there wasn’t just one factor that can cause burnout. It is due to a number of factors; both external (unrealistic job pressures) and internal (cumulative, personality, wellbeing). This article is going to briefly address the external pressures and what you can do as an individual to stay ahead of burnout

As practitioners, we act as the front line; the public face of the project while managing the lines of communication between the project and the public. It’s our job to deliver news of significant and sometimes permanent impacts of a project on the lives of others. We manage complaints, feedback, talk to all walks of life and turn the complex world of technical project information into bite size morsels fit for public consumption.

We often find ourselves comforting and counselling communities. We are the first line of people confronted with their frustration, anger and their abuse. Sometimes we do all of this at 2am over the community hotline before we have to be onsite at 7am to start the day over.
All this can lead to burnout.

Surveying colleagues, peers and through my own experiences, I have found that other key external influences that contribute to burnout include:
– Companies under resourcing
– Not investing in training
– Not valuing the function’s value

I have found the under resourcing of community teams a major catalyst of burnout and job pressures. This factor doesn’t discriminate between the size of projects – from small projects with one community representative to mega-projects that have a high level of community and media backlash. Not enough numbers on the ground to deal with complaints, protests, media scrutiny, complex issues, negative feedback or to take the 24/7 community phone home each night leads to exhaustion and burnout.

Another factor is when teams are not adequately trained to deal with the severe pressures that come with this job. This coupled with government agencies not equally prepared or equipped to classify, handle or closeout unreasonable complaints or constant communication from vexatious complainants.

As a profession, community engagement on projects is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – the function is written very tightly into the contract and we must maintain legislation as well as adhere to the extremely tight approval and notification timeframes. Significant pressure is placed on practitioners to ensure deadlines and contractual obligations are met and costly mistakes are avoided.

It’s important that as an individual you take responsibility to proactively practice self-care and know your warning signs when burnout is approaching. There are a number of strategies that you can put in place every day. I have put together a list of my top tips to stay ahead of burnout:

1. Understand your personal triggers and warning signs that you are fatigued – then put in place a self-care plan to reverse these.

2. Understand and accept the circle of influence. Avoid getting wound up about something that is simply out of your control. Gain perspective and influence what you can and let the rest go!

3. Strive for a balance between work and personal life, focusing on personal care. This might include exercise or an activity that you enjoy outside of work. Make time to fit it into your schedule.

4. Get a mentor or coach to help observe and critique you (or just listen!). They can be your external eyes and ears and judge your performance and wellbeing objectively.

5. Gain buy-in and support from above. Speak to your manager about the issues and agree on an individual strategy to help you move forward and stay engaged.

6. Know when to push back. It’s never ok to have to put up with abuse, threats or inappropriate behaviour. It is your right to stop the conversation, hang up the phone or walk away – always look after yourself first and foremost.

Rebecca presented ‘Feel the Burn – Managing Burnout as a Community Engagement Practitioner’ at this year’s IAP2 Australasia Conference in Sydney. You can access Bec’s full IAP2 presentation and find out more about how to manage burnout on the Becscomm app – download here: https://www.becscomm.com.au/becscomm-app.

Five rules every project manager should understand (& practice!) for effective community relations.

It is difficult to put a dollar figure on the true value of good community relations; but the cost of getting it wrong can mean big dollars in delays, design changes, mediation and damaged reputations. But what happens if you don’t have the luxury of your own dedicated “comms team”?

We’ve put together a simple cheat sheet for project managers and construction professionals to build a foundation for good community relations, even if they find themselves flying solo in the realm of comms. Bonus: most of these tips can also be used to improve internal communication with your project team too. #winning

What is good community relations?

Good community relations is exactly that: good relationships with the community.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to community relations in construction, which is both exciting and annoying. I say exciting because I love the thrill of immersing myself in a new project and community; getting to know their unique challenges and coming up with creative ways to solve them together. I say annoying because construction can be such a fast-paced and contractual beast that we end up spending so much of our time trying to meet our regulatory obligations or responding to complaints, questions and media enquiries instead of really getting to know the people we’re impacting. That’s where a blanket ‘best practice’ approach starts to sound mighty appealing.
With that in mind, there are a couple of golden rules that can help to put you in good stead with the impacted community and your key project stakeholders.

Note: this is a guide for community relations in practice, and assumes that a level of stakeholder mapping and analysis has already been done and you have a solid engagement strategy in place.

First up: Listen (properly)

This is the simplest, most important and hardest rule of all.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with someone to address a complaint which has stemmed from that person feeling like no one is really listening. And it’s so frustrating, because often the original issue was relatively minor, but has escalated because they’ve been fobbed off or ignored or someone has given them an answer to a question they never asked. The worst part is, it is so avoidable.

It’s like getting your quality control sorted on a concrete pour; if you don’t do things properly the first time, you’ll end up wasting time and money on rework. If you don’t listen properly the first time, you’ll end up wasting time and money responding to community complaints or explaining yourself to your client or the media later.

Here’s how to do it: stop assuming, anticipating and thinking about what you want to say and try to really understand what the person is saying to you. Then (here’s the kicker) check with them that you heard it right. Then, and preferably only then, respond to their question and/or come up with solutions, together if possible. Even if the answer is not what they want to hear, I promise you that if you’ve invested the time to really listen and understand their question or concerns, you’ll be light years ahead and on the road to a better, stronger, more meaningful relationship with the community.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – S Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

Two: Be Honest

Chances are if you tell porkies to avoid conflict or cover your ass, the truth will come back and bite you, so you might as well be upfront about it. Good relationships are built on trust and respect and those two things are not possible without a good measure of honesty.
Bonus tip: apologise when you’re in the wrong. Making mistakes is what makes us gloriously human and there is immense power in admitting when we are wrong. Worst case scenario, you look like a bit of a goose and need to spend some time fixing your mistake (which you would likely have to do anyway). Best case, you gain more street cred as a decent human being and get to hit the reset button on a relationship or situation.

On a side note: contrary to popular belief, saying sorry does not equal admission of liability. Even in criminal law, an actual confession doesn’t automatically create guilt. So if you’ve done something wrong or made a mistake, own it, apologise and move on.

Three: Follow Through

Question: Is there anything more frustrating than when someone says they are going to do something, and then they don’t?

Answer: No. It’s this simple: if you say you’re going to do something, then do it.

Four: Pick your Battles

Sometimes arguing for the sake of making a point or getting all defensive (yes, even when you KNOW you’re right) can make a bad situation an absolute nightmare. I’m not suggesting that it is ok for a community member to abuse or accuse you of something when they don’t have all the facts, but trying to provide facts to an irate person is futile. Facts don’t matter to a person who has just been woken up at 2am by one of your workers throwing metal plates onto the back of a truck outside their bedroom window at the end of an already loud and long night shift. They don’t care if you have approval to be there or that your asphalt is looking slick.

In this kind of scenario, you’re best to just cop an angry phone call on the chin, don’t argue, then refer to steps one, two and three above.

Last but not least: Stay Flexible

Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the only way. Every project is different, every community has different priorities and every person in the community experiences impacts differently. Learn from your mistakes and from lessons other people share with you – soak it all in and always be ready to adapt. That doesn’t mean you have to get on board the latest, most innovative and expensive communications tools either. It could be as simple as trying a new format for a community event that removes the opportunity for grand-standing and allows everyone to have a voice. Or it might mean asking the community how they would prefer to be contacted instead of sending out the same old paper notifications that never get read. The key takeaway here: if something isn’t working, try something different.
Don’t assume. Ask questions, keep an open mind and have fun. Or just bring in a professional to help you out.

Amanda is a senior communication and stakeholder engagement consultant at Becscomm. With almost 10 years of experience in the civil construction and mining industries and a previous 6 years in finance and investment banking, Amanda draws on a variety of experience to deliver high-level communications and stakeholder engagement support for major projects and tender submissions.