EFFECTIVE EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATION STRATEGY DURING CRISIS

As the old saying goes, ‘Prevention is better than the cure.” The same holds true even in the case of HR disasters and corporate emergencies. We live in an unpredictable world; not knowing where or when the next crisis will hit us, or even if multiple crises could arise simultaneously. Whether a natural disaster, security breach, loss of server data, corporate scandal, or even a pandemic such as COVID-19, the preparedness of such a situation arising is paramount for any company!

Crisis communication involves the steps taken by a company’s internal communications or HR team to disseminate information efficiently to keep employees informed, safe, and headed in the same positive direction. Proper communication is vital to effectively handle the crisis at hand and will become a good or bad case study in the future, depending on how it was handled in the past.

This is why companies invest heavily in preparing a well-thought-out strategy in advance to address properly all the stakeholders of the company such as the customers, employees, investors, and even news networks. Needless to say, it is important to keep the messaging consistent, while at the same time customized and flexible, if things around keep changing quickly.

Here are 7 steps that will help you before, during and after a crisis hits –

1. Stay ahead of the curve

Plan worst-case scenarios well in advance. Think about all the things that could go wrong by brainstorming with your team. Every scenario needs to be covered, whether it is natural disasters, pandemics, economic recession, criminal cases, product-related crises, data breaches, or personal lawsuits. Think about how to tackle each scenario, and come up with a plan to make sure all your bases are covered if and when it hits.

2. Create teams for different crises

Every team needs to have one or more Points of Contacts (POCs), who are a phone call or message away. Delegate individual responsibilities, and ensure that every member of every team has clear-cut action points they can execute at a moment’s notice. Create document templates in advance, such as press releases, notices to investors, and employee instructions or FAQs, so that you’re not running around typing and printing stuff when the crisis hits.

3. Keep employees up to date

Make sure that you communicate with employees in regular spurts during crucial or stressful events. This will not only help allay their fears but also keep them abreast of sudden changes in the work environment. Vital information during a crisis helps them trust the management with important decisions, and to know that they are being looked out for – in the short or long-term. Avoid roadblocks, and keep communication channels open, consistent, and practical. Also, making sure to address their concerns quickly should be your top priority.

4. Avoid the silent approach

It is understandable if you’re still preparing the correct information in the format required during a crisis, and need time to make it available to employees. Be honest and let them know you’re working on it, and information can be expected sooner than later.

5. Tests and drills

Having a good plan is one thing, and making sure it actually works during crises is another. Just like fire drills, make sure you test your crisis communication strategy at least once a year. This will help gauge what is working, what is not, and ensures tweaking can be done before the actual crisis actually does arrive.

6. Use social media effectively

This is especially important nowadays, more than ever. News and important updates can be transmitted across the world in the blink of an eye, or at the click of a button. In case of a data breach crisis where the regular networks and internal communication channels may be down and out, it helps immensely to have a backup system of communication to and from employees. There should simply be no excuse in ensuring that your messaging goes out in time, and across different company verticals, hierarchies, and time zones.

7. Evaluate after the crisis

Post-crisis analysis is just as important as pre-crisis plans. See how effective or ineffective your internal communications strategy was. Understand what worked, what didn’t, and what could’ve been executed better. Ask for feedback from all the different POCs about how their teams acted and reacted. Also, ask employees directly about their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions through surveys, polls, and open-ended questions. Take all the feedback received, and tighten your strategy before the next big crisis hits.

After the crisis has blown over, a few questions for the internal communications team would be – Did all employees receive the necessary information? Was your communication timely? Were you able to control the message? How did the communications perform? Answer the questions in an honest and reflective manner, and make the required shifts about how you communicate, message clarity, and even how to eliminate unnecessary processes that slowed you down.

A Final Note

Although it is said that customer is king, employees should be your first priority during a crisis. Not being able to respond properly to their questions, worries, and concerns means that they’re more likely to gather misleading information from unreliable or false sources. Keeping employees in the know builds their trust, confidence, and responsibility. Make them vital partners who the company can rely on to manage, help, and support themselves and others in the next major crisis. Nothing like teamwork to strengthen bonds, and keep the company thriving, especially when something sudden and damaging like a crisis can hit hard and fast.

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