The Importance of Communication During A Crisis
A lawsuit, an accident on the production floor, a data breach - or a totally unpredicted outbreak of a new disease - can all spell a crisis for your business and can undermine everything you have worked for.
There are ways to deal with a disaster, and having a disaster plan in place is essential.
But although you may know exactly what is going on and what to do, no-one else will. That is why communications must be a key element in any disaster plan.
If people know something has gone very wrong but don’t know exactly what, the consequences can be worse than the original problem. Creditors may start to call in debts, customers may hurry to cancel orders and place them with your competitors, and even your staff may be looking for another job.
You need to be able to show that you are still in control of your business and that you are in control of the crisis as well.
You may be able to move to another office, pull production and switch to another product or find some other way to continue working, even when the problem threatens your business. But none of the big ideas which could help you survive will be of any use if no-one knows about them.
That is why crisis communication is an important component of any disaster plan. It can help you contain the crisis and recover from its impact, by:
- Letting your staff know what they need to do
- Ensuring your customers or clients understand that your service will be disrupted and what it will mean to them
- Informing the authorities and regulators – which may be a legal requirement
- Stopping the media from relying on speculation – keeping you and your business in control of the situation
- Acting to support damage limitation
During a crisis, your business will be under intense scrutiny by the public and by the media. All businesses need to have a crisis communication plan to ensure that accurate information is provided during an emergency to minimise problems caused by rumour and misleading communications.
Who will manage the crisis?
In times of business crisis, decision-makers should be well aware of company policy on crisis management and communications – even before that crisis occurs.
Here are the steps you may need to take to as part of your crisis communication preparations.
1. Create a formal plan
When you're in the midst of a crisis, it is too late to let people use their own judgement. You need a plan in place which lets everyone know what they need to do right away. There could be no time – or possibly no way – to brief people in the heat of a crisis.
Define what needs to be done in the event of all the crisis scenarios you can think of – from flooding and fire to data loss.
Include who needs to take action – and what that action should be.
What information do stakeholders need? Customers need one kind of information and the press another. Government regulators may need different information altogether. Plan communications ahead before a crisis strikes to react quickly to whatever comes your way.
2. Have a crisis communication team and spokesperson
People need to know what they have to do – and where their responsibilities lie.
If you are the CEO, it could be you as you have the necessary authority. But you may well be busy dealing with the crisis itself. You need someone to take responsibility who will be available, and who can act for you.
The person you appoint should be trained and experienced in how to handle crisis and emergency, communicate well with the employees, react on a timely basis and always be ready to answer employees’ specific questions. They should be able to communicate outside the business too. Customers and suppliers will want to know what is going on – it will be their job to provide reassurance.
They may not be able to do it all themselves. People from other departments such as managers, HR professionals, operations, internal communications and PR departments should be involved in the strategy.
- Their priority will be to gain employees' attention, connect with employees, build trust in the workplace and make employees work towards the same goals
- Your business activities have a far-reaching impact on lots of people and companies - develop a crisis communication plan that includes a list of who needs to know what ASAP
- Make sure your messages are accurate and consistent
- When communicating, it is important to deliver the right information, even if that sometimes means answering with “I don’t know”
- Giving wrong information can cause the spread of misinformation which can significantly hurt your reputation with the outside world and undermine your employees’ trust
- Messages delivered to employees have to be consistent no matter which communication channel you use and whether you are communicating with internal or external stakeholders
- Some companies also tend to neglect or ignore the crisis - if you don’t comment on the situation, be sure that someone else will
Therefore, consistent and transparent communication is a must-have during a crisis.
3. Understand your audiences – and what they need to know
As in any other communication strategy, workplace crisis communicators need to have a very good understanding of their audience.
In most situations, there will be multiple audiences a spokesperson would have to communicate and connect to.
- Junior staff
- Senior staff
- Your clients or customers
- The authorities
- The media general media outlets
- Industry-specific media
- Social media sites
They will need to be able to segment those audiences properly and adjust the approach and messages to them. Your staff – who may understand the details of what is going wrong – may need a very different message to your clients or customers, whose main interest is in knowing whether or not the products or services you provide to them will be delivered as usual.
Timely communication is crucial because the worst thing that can happen is for your employees to hear about the crisis from a source different from their own employer.
Also, depending on the type of crisis, not every employee may be the target audience you need to communicate with. In any situation, however, the message needs to be delivered in a timely manner, and it needs to be clear and easy to understand.
4. Deliver targeted messages
Once you have to define your audiences, adjusting the internal crisis communication content is the next important step.
Not every employee needs to receive every message during an emergency. This just slows down employees’ response time by overwhelming them with irrelevant information.
Ideally, your internal communication solution should be able to target specific individuals and departments to ensure the most pertinent information gets to those who need it most.
Employers that manage to adopt these best crisis communication practices are more likely to equip people with important information, optimize employee experience, streamline emergency response, protect people, keep physical and digital assets safe, and minimize lost productivity and revenue.
Crisis communications go both ways
During a crisis, employees are your most valuable asset because they are the voice of your company. They can be your strongest advocates and they must be kept onside and on-message.
For that reason, crisis communication should never go one-way only . Crisis communication must enable employees to join the two-way conversations, raise their concerns and ask questions.
You can encourage feedback by making it quite clear that it is welcomed. Seek out opinions and ideas, and encourage contributions. Using an online forum could be the solution – your staff can use it out of hours as well as during work time. In companies that communicate mainly through emails, intranets or even instant messaging apps, two-way communication comes naturally.
Of course, if your crisis has wiped out power, or your network, you may not be able to use electronic communication – be prepared to use more traditional alternatives.
However, emails or intranets will be very inefficient in providing crisis communications to non-wired employees, remote employees or employees who may be away from their desks.
The most effective way to communicate during an emergency or crisis these days is via mobile technology, which goes wherever your employees go.
After the event
Unfortunately, many employers don’t have insights into their employee engagement with the crisis-related content delivered to them. This causes high levels of uncertainty and fear that employees haven’t even got or read the critical updates.
You need to know what communication is working.
When the crisis is over, you need to ask yourself what you have learned from the situations and what you can do in the future to improve. Even though these situations are not comfortable to anyone, they should serve as a good learning curve. The five questions every employer needs to address after the crisis include:
- What did we do right?
- What did we do wrong?
- How to improve crisis communication next time?
- What are the critical crisis communication elements that impact on how the crisis was handled?
- How can we prepare our crisis communication team?
Define a crisis in your communications plan. Not every blip is a crisis that ruins your weekend. Create protocols that define when managers are contacted, and when it can wait until Monday.
You may also need to deal with some costs as part of your disaster preparation measures. When this is the case, you can turn to Rangewell, confident that they can find the most appropriate and affordable finance from over 300 lenders and all types of funding, and support you from initial enquiry right through to drawing down the money.