One of the most essential components of a crisis management plan is internal communication. In a crisis situation, employees look to leadership for direction and guidance on how to interface with clients and the public. So how do you prioritize crisis communication when you’re busy putting out fires left and right? The key is to have an effective, well-prepared plan in place long before any crisis occurs.
What is crisis management?
Public relations firm Tucker Hall defines crisis management as “the planning, implementation, and monitoring of strategies that are put in place to help an organization deal with a significant negative event”. Crisis management plans often consist of identified potential threats, risk management strategies, pre-assigned tasks, and communications blueprints.
There are many potential sources for a crisis, both internal and external. The coronavirus pandemic is a perfect example of an external crisis. Internal sources might include employee misconduct or an accident on company property. Identifying the source will help shape your crisis management plan and determine the appropriate response.
Preparation is key
As we’ve learned, there is no way to predict how or when a crisis will strike. An effective crisis communication plan can’t be thrown together at the eleventh hour by the management team; it should already be in place long before any hint of a potential threat.
List potential threats
Different crises will affect your business in very different ways. While coming up with a list of every scenario that could possibly go wrong might not be feasible, you can certainly identify different types of situations that would trigger the need for crisis response.
Fast Company identifies three main types of company crises:
- Personnel crises: Misconduct, unethical or illegal activities performed by employees that attract negative publicity
- Systemic crises: Operational crises that arise from within the organization, such as product recalls or quality issues
- Contextual crises: Natural disasters, pandemics, terrorism, etc.
There may also be industry-specific crises that your company needs to prepare for. Those involved in finance, for example, should develop a plan for fluctuations in the global markets, while energy firms would be wise to have an environmental crisis management plan in place.
Crisis response requires many essential tasks to be carried out in a short period of time. If roles aren’t clearly defined in advance, you may experience the bystander effect, a phenomenon that discourages individuals from acting when others are present in an emergency situation. Make sure your crisis communication plan clearly defines a crisis team and which team members are responsible for which communications.
What is the most effective way to reach your employees with different types of communications? Keep in mind that information with varying levels of urgency might be more appropriate for different channels. Emergency notices may need to be issued via smartphone notification or text message. On the other hand, routine updates and less urgent information can wait for an email or an update in your corporate portal.
However, you choose to communicate internally during a crisis, make sure to set the standard for how frequently employees should be responsible for checking for updates. Staff should also know where they can go to look for important information and answers to questions they may have regarding an ongoing crisis, such as dedicated pages or message boards.
In the hours and days following a crisis, you don’t want to waste valuable time creating communications from scratch. Having a series of templates on hand will help get your crisis communication plan into action as quickly as possible. All Powell Software corporate solutions include ready-made communication templates to help get you going.
Using crisis response tools
When crisis strikes, it’s time to put your crisis management plan into action to ensure business continuity. With the right plan in place, your crisis response efforts should be freed up for key decision making and adjusting to new developments. You can also prioritize making the most of your crisis response tools to maintain effective communication with your employees. Here are some best practices.
The most important and urgent information your employees need to know should be communicated through alerts. With a company intranet like Powell Intranet, you can decide when and how these alerts are sent, and even customize different messages for different teams.
Your crisis communication plan should determine what is and isn’t important enough to issue an alert. Information like office closures, health and safety warnings, and time-sensitive instructions are some of the most common reasons to send an alert. But make sure to prioritize only the most urgent messages so that employees aren’t overloaded with too much information.
As a crisis continues, you’ll likely have important updates that aren’t urgent enough to warrant alerts. These updates can be shared through pre-established channels such as a dedicated section in your internal mobile app, like Powell Apps. Some examples of updates might be company news or reminders of crisis-related protocols.
Crisis communications is a two-way street. Make sure you take the time to collect feedback from your employees. This will help you gauge office morale and get valuable insights into how clients are reacting to the crisis. Employee polls are a great way to do this; once again, this feature is available via Powell Intranet and is easy to set up, deploy, and collect responses.
Internal crisis communication tips
While the subject matter and timeliness of your internal communication matters, so does the way in which you communicate. The tone you set with employees during crisis management will make or break how they are able to handle the crisis.
Tone and positivity
What mood are you conveying in your internal messages during a crisis? Even though leadership faces challenges and may feel stressed and overwhelmed during difficult times, it’s important to stay positive when interacting with the rest of the company. Addressing the workforce with confidence will go a long way in keeping morale high.
It’s easy for leaders to feel like they need to stay in control during a crisis by performing all the essential tasks themselves. However, the responsibilities of communication can be shared. While it’s important for employees to hear from the CEO or president, some information is just as effective coming from other members of the leadership team. Spreading these responsibilities out will help ease the burden and reduce fatigue.
Keeping channels open
It’s normal for employees to have questions and concerns during a crisis. So it’s important to have an inclusive culture where employees feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Be sure to have a clear and open line of communication for these issues to be addressed in a timely manner. More importantly, employees should be made aware of these channels, how to use them, and what type of response they can expect.
Crisis management doesn’t end when the crisis is over
The end of a crisis is a huge relief for everyone involved in executing a crisis management plan. However, it doesn’t mean that you can simply stop crisis communication. Even post-crisis after the immediate situation has defused, keep talking to your team about how to return to business as normal. You can also use this time to evaluate the success of your crisis management plan in action and decide how to make changes to improve things next time.