There’s no denying that 2020 will take up a large chapter in future history books. With lessons and learnings aplenty so far this year, one of the biggest takeaways for businesses and organizations is the importance of having a concise and effective crisis communication plan. The global pandemic has posed an unparalleled challenge for organizations around the world and revolutionized the way we work. Organizations never know what challenges are coming their way, be it a health crisis, a leadership departure, a technological crisis or management misconduct, there are a myriad of crises that organizations may face so having an effective internal crisis communications plan in place is essential for being prepared and managing a crisis successfully.
In this post, we will be looking at the different elements to take into consideration when creating a successful internal communication crisis plan. Your crisis communication playbook is essentially your plan of action when it comes to managing a crisis, including the people involved and the processes you will follow.
Identifying When Crisis Communication is Necessary
First things first, it’s important to determine when crisis communication is necessary. When a situation occurs, there are three things you need to ask yourself:
1. What’s going on?
It’s important to determine the severity of the situation and how it impacts your whole organization. Sometimes situations occur that are an emergency for one department, but not for all. Finding out exactly what is going on and assessing its impacts on your organization is the first step to determining whether or not you need to put your crisis communication plan into action.
2. Is it already, or is it going to be a crisis?
Some situations can be fully resolved before they even reach the public eye. Is this situation definitely going to be a crisis?
3. What does success look like?
Once you have determined that a situation is a crisis, what does successful management of the crisis look like? How are you going to measure this success? This may be resolving the issue or avoiding the crisis completely, or it may be minimizing the impact to your organization.
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Watch the webinar ‘Internal and Crisis Communication: Creating a Playbook for Success’ to learn more about creating an effective internal and crisis communications plan.
Who Should be Included in your Crisis Communications Plan?
Who will be involved in managing the crisis? What processes will they follow? Who will they need to communicate to? All these questions are fundamental to the creation of an internal communications crisis management playbook.
Having these factors predetermined will save you time and allow you to act fast in the event of a crisis. The key people in your crisis management team will already understand what is required, so they can swiftly follow the processes outlined and ensure effective management of the situation.
When it comes to assigning people to your crisis management team, it’s important to determine who is in charge and who does what. We recommend planning the following:
It’s important for your executive team to sign off on your plan and agree on the crisis lead. This step is vital to ensuring there is clear leadership when a crisis occurs and to limit confusion within your organization.
Every organization is different, and the crisis lead varies from organization to organization. It may be your CEO, Head of Operations, or another role entirely – the key is to allocate someone with strong leadership and communication skills.
Crisis Team Structure
Different functions within your business should be accounted for within your crisis team to ensure all areas are cared for and taken into consideration. In recent years, social media has become increasingly important as it’s an excellent tool for monitoring a situation and gathering real-time feedback.
With so much Information Getting Passed around During a Crisis, How do Employees know which Information to Trust?
During a crisis, there may be a lot of information circulating internally as well as on social media and news sites external to your organization. Some of this information may be false or misleading, but you can only control what you can control –which is your organization's approach and response to crisis communications. Let your customers, consumers and employees know at the onset of a crisis how you are going to communicate, the channels you will be using and the frequency of communications. This way, employees understand where to obtain the most trusted information with regards to your organization’s response to the crisis.
What Advice Would you give if a Crisis Communications Team is Developed, but is made up mainly with Advisors and not many Doers?
If senior team members or advisors can’t spare enough time to attend all the crisis planning meetings then they should allocate a doer to attend and report back on their behalf. At the end of the day, it’s important to have continuity and action throughout the process. Each function represented within your crisis planning should have a doer so that your whole organization is being accounted for and no one is left behind.
Who Will Your Crisis Communications be Aimed at?
When dealing with a crisis, it’s important to have a clear understanding of who your audience is to ensure they receive the appropriate messaging at the right time. The dissemination of information is likely to involve both external internal communications to:
- Senior leadership
- Communities and the general public
A key element of successful communication is timing and delivery, which brings us to the next core part of the playbook – developing effective processes.
Developing Crisis Communications Processes for Different Scenarios
When communicating throughout a crisis, it’s important to remember that an absence of communication can cause people to fill in the information gaps themselves. Pre-planning parts of your communication, like a holding statement, can help you communicate quickly when a crisis occurs.
When building out your crisis plan, it’s impossible to account for every possible scenario. But, what you can do is create a plan for buckets of scenarios like natural disasters or product recalls. Identifying these buckets of scenarios creates the opportunity for you to pre-plan your communications including what you are saying and who needs to hear what.
For each of your buckets, you can plan:
A holding statement
An initial statement that you can put out straight away while you gather more information about the crisis and develop your next steps.
An elevator speech
A quick 20-second overview of the crisis situation and detail the organization’s approach for managing it.
Identify your key talking points for your messaging and break these down by audience.
Questions can often catch you off-guard in a crisis scenario, so planning responses to FAQs is an important way to be prepared and to reassure your audience.
Two-way communication is vital. When communicating through a crisis you need to continually learn how people are receiving and responding to your messaging, giving you the opportunity to adjust and improve accordingly.
Once you have determined what you are going to say and when for your crisis scenarios, you can start planning the delivery. The delivery part of your playbook is important as it identifies when you are going to give information and how you are going to deliver it.
In your crisis playbook you can carve out:
Who is going to be in your war room meetings, and who is going to lead them?
At what point are you going to release your communications throughout the management of a crisis?
Will you communicate via email, in person, through your company intranet or using a mix of channels?
Who will be responsible for sending out communications?
How will you receive and respond to feedback? Real-time feedback is vital to continue learning if your process is working and to ensure everyone is getting the correct information.
How will you structure the documentation of crisis communication learnings and lessons to implement these into future crisis communications plans?
Of course, these factors may change from scenario to scenario, for example, social distancing measures in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak have limited face-to-face interactions. This will have forced organizations to be agile in their response, conducting virtual meetings instead of in-person and ensuring online communications are clear and frequent. No matter how much you plan, if a crisis does occur you will still need to be adaptive and responsive in your approach.
How Often Should an Organization Release Internal Communications to Staff During a Crisis or a Big Organizational Change?
First, it’s important to consider how much your organization currently communicates with employees. What is your organization used to? You don’t want to communicate too infrequently, but you also don’t want to communicate too much and cause an information overload.
At the start of a crisis, communicate little and often. In your first email to employees, it’s important to outline what has happened and an overview of what to expect from your internal crisis communications. This could include how you will be sharing information, how often and any key points to look out for in upcoming messages.
What Recommendations do you have for Effectively Gathering Feedback from your Audience?
Any feedback that you can get from your employees is crucial to improving your internal communications. Not everyone has the same technological abilities, so it’s important to make giving feedback as simple as possible and have different feedback mechanisms in place.
There are a number of ways to do this from sending out a simple survey by email or by getting your field leaders to go out and talk with front line workers in focus groups. Half the battle is making sure your employees feel heard no matter what function they work in so they are fairly represented and have the opportunity to contribute their feedback.
Learn More by Watching the On-Demand Internal & Crisis Communications Webinars
Taking these elements into consideration when developing your crisis communications playbook will help you get as prepared as possible before a crisis occurs. Whether you are just starting to build your playbook, or are looking to improve an existing one, check out the on-demand webinar series aimed at helping you achieve crisis and internal communications success!
Throughout the webinar series, we’re joined by a panel of industry experts as we take a dive deep into internal communications and crisis communications strategy to highlight insights and tools to set your organization up for success.