In the rush to manage the effects of a crisis on external stakeholders, the importance of internal crisis communication planning can sometimes be forgotten. But it is critical to update employees as soon as possible—after all, they are the people who will help you fix the problem and, hopefully, emerge unscathed.
The uptick in remote work in 2020 has made effective internal crisis communication planning that much harder. But a range of technology solutions can help streamline the delivery of key messages to employees.
A bolt from the blue
As the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare, crises can emerge suddenly—and if they are not managed correctly, they can be devastating in the short and long terms. Crises could be external, like a natural disaster, or they could be internal—a data breach, a ransomware attack or employee misconduct.
The key to good business leadership is effective communication—and those skills will be put to the test during extreme incidents, especially when your workforce is distributed. But swift, consistent and effective communication with employees is crucial particularly when social media can amplify the volume of dissenting voices and rumormongers. By tackling internal communications first you're not only potentially prioritizing the safety of your employees; you're also minimizing fallout. Fostering a collective spirit will also drive productivity and morale as your company weathers the crisis.
Effective leadership communication has two foundational tenets: putting a strategy in place and ensuring that you have the right technology solutions to support that strategy.
There were 2,935 publicly reported data breaches in the first three quarters of 2020. Meanwhile, a January 2020 World Economic Forum report put extreme weather events and natural disasters among the top five biggest business risks. Organizations must be prepared for any kind of crisis to strike at any moment.
When disaster strikes—and it will—the key is to take control quickly. But being able to do that requires lots of planning. Here's a list of recommended protocols that can help you develop your internal crisis communications management strategy.
- Make a plan. It is impossible to anticipate every type of crisis that could come your way. Instead, break situations down into manageable groupings or scenarios. Define the parameters that will require a crisis communications plan to be put into action.
- Build your team. You need to know who you can call and count on when a crisis happens. Involve representatives from your human resources, public relations, legal and IT teams. Nominate a spokesperson.
- Develop a notification system. This is where technology comes in. You need to be able to reach your employees quickly, and with accurate information. This is partly to ensure their safety—say, in the event of a natural disaster—but it's also so that you can seize control of the narrative. Build generic templates that can be quickly tweaked to fit any incident. If something's happened and you do not yet know what's going on, release a generic message that assures recipients that you are looking into things and will update as events warrant. Rumor abhors a vacuum.
- Test everything. Your plan might look great on paper, but it might not actually work very well in practice. Test your internal crisis communication plan at least once a year; gather feedback and adjust accordingly.
- Continue the feedback loop. After a major incident, you might just be relieved to be back to business as usual. But don't pass up the opportunity to ask employees about what worked and what didn't. The next time a crisis hits, you'll be even better prepared.