Rip it up and start again

If business schools were ever in need of an example of how not to handle communications and change, they could do a lot worse than taking a look at the fiasco that’s been going on at the DVLA this week.

We wholly applaud the efforts by the agency to modernise the driving licensing system through the scrapping of the paper counterpart. However, due to the lack of any apparent coherent campaign to educate the motoring public on the changes taking place, confusion has reigned. Long queues have formed at hire car counters; drivers have been hoodwinked into paying fees for licence endorsement checks; the DVLA has been widely panned in the media; and of all things, the new DVLA website crashed spectacularly.

All in all what should have been seen as a great modernisation programme for the agency has left it looking like a bunch of incompetent fools.

While it’s unlikely that most of us have to manage a significant change programme affecting 30 million plus drivers, there are undoubtedly a number of lessons that we can all learn from the DVLA’s mistakes this week:

1.    During a period of change you can never over communicate. Go to town on telling people what’s going to happen in the run up to the change. Repeat during the process of change and then reinforce and remind people afterwards.

2.    Communicate changes early. Don’t leave your communications to the last minute. Nowadays people are bombarded with more messages than ever so the sooner you start informing people about any impending changes, the greater your chances are of being successful.

3.    Use a wide range of media to ensure you reach out to all of your potential audiences. In today’s integrated media landscape ensure you’ve got all bases covered by communicating online, in print, via broadcast, specialist press, social media or directly. Leave no stone unturned by developing a comprehensive plan as possible.

4.    Test, test, test any new websites or technology prior to launch. In this day and age, it’s simply unacceptable for a website to fall over on launch day. Work with your IT guys to ensure any new sites don’t contain any bugs and servers are more than capable to handling massive spikes in traffic that are likely to be generated by your changes.

5.    If things do go wrong, go into crisis communications mode early. Be honest. Say sorry and try to fix things quickly.

If only the DVLA had paid attention to these communication basics, then perhaps they wouldn’t be in the middle of such a PR embarrassment.


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