It’s become normal to talk about everyday business challenges as though they’re real emergencies. We spent all day “putting out fires” or dealing with an “HR disaster.” However, at some point every company will face an actual, large-scale crisis of some kind. The crisis might be a natural disaster, security breach, media scandal, pandemic, or act of terrorism. You won’t know what it is until it happens—which is exactly why you want to prepare in advance.
Crisis communications are the steps taken by a company’s internal communications team to create a plan that disseminates information to the people affected. In any crisis, proper communication is key to keeping people calm, organized, and safe. How you handle a crisis will have a big impact on your employees and your company.
The importance of internal communications during a crisis
When a crisis occurs, you will need to:
- Move quickly.
- Consider various stakeholders and groups (this may include customers, government officials, employees, survivors, family members, management, and news media).
- Keep your messaging consistent, but not necessarily present all messages in the same way.
Here are three steps to help you develop a plan for handling a crisis.
Step #1: Plan a communication strategy before a crisis occurs.
Think about what could go wrong. Assemble a crisis intervention team and brainstorm a list of potential crises that could affect your company.
To help you get started, these may fall into several larger categories (information, criminal, natural disasters, economic, or product-related). Knowing what might happen can help you think about what you can do; and . you may find steps you can take now to eliminate the risk of a crisis.
Next, determine how you’ll communicate with employees in a crisis. Communicating may include:
- setting up special channels on your branded mobile app that can be activated at a moment’s notice,
- drafting holding statements so you aren’t preparing them when you should already be disseminating information,
- choosing a point person for each scenario, and
- setting up human resources to be able to effectively communicate with employees.
Different employees consume content differently. Some employees will check email regularly, others only have access to their smartphones or tablets during work, some may prefer a phone call or a notice on your intranet. One method of communication will not be enough. You need to meet your employees where they are, and this includes having a plan in place in case your primary means of communication is not available.
Step #2: When a crisis occurs, plan to act quickly and strategically.
When a crisis occurs, act quickly but strategically. In other words, don’t just jump into action without first pausing to make sure your information is as accurate as possible. The last thing you want to do is put out inaccurate messages.
If you’ve done your pre-crisis planning, you’ll be in an excellent position to start getting information out to employees even if you don’t have the exact answers. Remember, you want employees to trust the authority of your messaging, and not gather information from unreliable sources.
Update them regularly so you know they consistently have the most up-to-date information. Instead of trying to stop them from sharing information, provide accurate information for them to share.
Draft a simple message to employees that answers or addresses their most important questions to the best of your ability. As the crisis unfolds, adapt your message as necessary and make sure employees know the situation is fluid. Your top priority should be to produce factual, consistent, and practical messaging.
Step #3: Conduct a post-crisis analysis.
Companies that have successfully navigated a crisis will often be anxious to move on. However, it is important to evaluate how the crisis communications plan worked. Did all employees receive the necessary information? Was your communication timely? Were you able to control the message? How did the communications perform?
After you evaluate how the plan worked, make adjustments for next time. Keep what worked well, and change whatever didn’t go as expected. This may include shifting how you communicate, updating and clarifying your messaging, or eliminating anything that slowed you down or created unintended problems.
Include your employees in this process! They’ll be in the best position to tell you what worked and what didn’t, so take advantage. Try using a pulse survey in combination with communications performance data and insights.
Final Note: Focus on employees first
Although customers are important, your employees should be your first priority when it comes to messaging. If you don’t address their concerns, questions, and worries during a crisis, they’re likely to turn to other sources to get their information, and false or misleading information will only make things worse. When you keep employees in the loop, they become vital partners in managing the crisis and helping the company survive and thrive. With social media, employees will likely be communicating about a crisis, and what they say can have an extensive reach. Think of them as an extension of your public relations team in an emergency. This means whatever you tell them must be consistent and as accurate as possible.
Learn how Dow Chemical reaches their employees day-to-day and during times of change effectively and efficiently with a multi-channel internal communications strategy.