Making Employee Communication Work When Things Go Bad
A crisis can shake a company to its core and put revenue and reputation on the line. While many companies invest time and effort into preparing operational response and external crisis communication plans, few make a similar effort to get ready to communicate internally when things go wrong.
Well-informed employees can be highly effective company ambassadors. Clear and frequent communication during and following a crisis will provide them with the information they need to support the response.
Make A Plan
Laying the foundation for crisis communication with employees must be done in advance. Think through (better yet, test) your plans, completing these important actions:
Assign roles and responsibilities for employee crisis communication.
Identify one person with knowledge of your communication tools and strategy to lead the preparation and distribution of all employee communication during the crisis. Also, streamline your review process by designating one high-level executive such as the Vice President of Human Resources as the authority for approving all employee messages.
Determine your communication channels and how you will use each.
During a crisis, it’s likely you will lose one or more of your usual communication tools. In anticipation of that prospect, many companies have phone hotlines or special web sites ready for rapid deployment. Determine which tools you will use under what circumstances, and communicate that information to employees at least once a year.
Prepare and pre-approve messages with standard employee information and instructions.
Identify information employees will need in a crisis including what is already known, such as directions for securing data, guidelines for handling encounters with the media or instructions for tracking response-related expenses and time. Prepare your messages with such information in advance and hold them in reserve to save valuable time when you will be short of it during an unplanned event.
Putting The Plan Into Action
When a crisis does occur – no matter whether it is a reputational or operational crisis – rapidly begin to communicate with employees to provide them with accurate, up-to-date information about the situation. Rely on your pre-planning to provide the foundation to react fast.
Don’t allow employees to hear about a crisis from the news media first as this typically makes them feel undervalued and distrusted. Quickly correct any misinformation being reported, and eliminate uncertainty by being forthcoming with updates about any effects the crisis will have on employees. Provide them one- or two-sentence responses they should give people who ask them about the incident to gain word-of-mouth consistency in your message.
When you are unable to share information due to privacy or legal issues, explain to employees why you can’t provide it to demonstrate that while you can’t share everything, the dialogue remains open.
Don’t wait another day to get ready to communicate with your employees during a crisis. Contact Ward to learn how to effectively prepare to keep your employees, as well as other stakeholders, informed – and helpful in mitigating the damage — when a crisis occurs.