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8 Tips for Effective Crisis Communications in the Workplace editorial staff editorial staff

It's important to have a crisis communications plan in place before you need it.

  • "Crisis communication" is a term that describes a plan companies create to ensure effective communication during a crisis.
  • Having a crisis communication plan is imperative to ensure your company or organization can remain functional even during times of crisis.
  • Some benefits of having a crisis communication plan are that they boost awareness, reduce the impact and accelerate the response to crises.

Although you can prepare for some crises, like mass layoffs, it's often hard to anticipate a crisis. That said, you can always prepare for how you will communicate information about the crisis to your internal and external stakeholders.

As you continue to train your internal communications team, determine how you will communicate before, during and after a crisis. In your crisis communications plan, be sure to account for all stakeholders: employees, employees' families, competitors, customers, partners and news media. Depending on the nature of the crisis, some (or all) of these stakeholders may require timely and accurate information at every stage of the process. 

What is crisis communication?

According to Rock Dove Solutions, crisis communication is the systems, technologies and protocols that allow an organization to communicate effectively during a crisis. Given that crises typically occur unexpectedly, a crisis communication plan is a method of preparing your business to weather storms of all kinds.

Why is a crisis communication plan beneficial?

According to DPK Public Communications, these are the benefits of having a crisis communication plan:

  • Higher awareness: One of the top benefits of a crisis communication plan is that it creates a heightened sense of awareness for all parties involved. By taking the time to consider all the risks a company may face, employees are more likely to be in tune with the company and pay closer attention to things that could potentially be catastrophic to the company.

  • Lower impact: Although a crisis cannot necessarily be prevented, a crisis communication plan can reduce their impact. A crisis communication plan will expose the vulnerabilities in your company to help you strengthen them before a problem occurs.

  • Accelerated responses: Rather than waiting until a crisis occurs to create a plan, creating a crisis communication strategy beforehand will allow you to spring into action as soon as crisis hits.

  • The strength of being prepared: When a major crisis hits, it can be easy for a company to play the role of a victim. A crisis communication plan allows you to focus on your mission statement and moving forward, rather than allowing the negativity to fester and wreak havoc on your company.

Here are eight tips to handle crisis communications in the workplace.

1. Prepare all employees ahead of time.

Employees are not only affected by crises; oftentimes, they are also the people responsible for picking up the pieces. One study reports that employees react to crises in a variety of ways, from panicked and insecure to betrayed and frustrated. As a result, some employees lose motivation, others leave the organization, and many need more information. Before a crisis occurs, ensure that every employee is familiar with company policies and procedures.

2. Identify your crisis communications team.

Designate a team of senior executives, making sure to include public relations and legal experts. If you are a smaller organization or do not have this in-house expertise, you may choose to work with an agency or independent consultant that specializes in crisis communications. Regardless of your structure, identify and appoint a crisis communications team.

3. Train your crisis communications team.

While all employees should understand company policies and procedures, key leaders and communicators need to know exactly how to respond. One of the most effective ways to prepare for crises is learning from others. You can do this by developing case studies based on recent events. Ask your crisis management team to play through "what if it was us?" scenarios. It's also important to train any potential spokespeople. Even a strong public speaker needs to receive training on how to communicate with the press and preserve the organization's brand image during a crisis. 

4. Develop a crisis communications plan.

Assess your channels of communication and determine how you can best leverage each channel during a crisis. This may be company or departmental meetings, intranet, emails, or a combination of these.

5. Don't sacrifice accuracy for efficiency.

Now more than ever, interconnectivity means that customers, employees, competitors and media can (and will) publish stories before your internal team is ready, whether or not those stories are accurate or complete. During an actual crisis, a timely response is important, but accuracy is paramount. Don't publish incorrect information because you feel rushed to "get something out there."

6. Be honest and follow through.

If you don't know the truth yet, or your organization is not quite ready to respond with a detailed message, communicate that. Tell stakeholders that the organization is gathering information and preparing a formal response. Spokespeople must weigh the recommendations from the organization's legal counsel alongside the nature of the crisis. Regardless of what is said, if your spokesperson promises a future statement, your organization must follow through. Broken promises will only exacerbate the crisis.

7. Assess your response and brainstorm improvements.

After the crisis, assess the response of your internal team. Did your crisis communications plan work effectively? Did your external communications preserve your organization? Was the overall plan executed properly? After you analyze what worked and what didn't, brainstorm how you can improve the process.

8. Share these changes with your internal team.

Once you determine how you can improve your crisis communications plan, share those improvements with employees. This will bring you full circle: Prepare – and reprepare – all employees. You want to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Lack of preparation for crisis communications can be a crisis in itself. Educate all employees, identify and train your crisis communications team, create a crisis communications plan, don't forfeit accuracy for speed, be honest, and always work to improve your processes.

Image Credit: Ralwel / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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