Although you can prepare for some crises, like mass layoffs, many times, it's 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, employee families, competitors, customers, partners and/or 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.
Here are eight tips you can follow to handle crisis communications in the workplace.
1. Prepare ALL employees ahead of time.
Employees are not only affected by crises, often times, they are also the people responsible for managing through crises or 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 and be sure to include public relations and legal experts. If you're a smaller organization, or otherwise do not have the expertise in-house, you may choose to work with an agency or independent consultant that specializes in crisis communications. Regardless of your structure, identify and/or 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 by 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 how to preserve the organization 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, regardless of whether or not those stories are accurate or complete. During an actual crisis, responding in a timely manner 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 relevant 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 a spokesperson promises a future statement, the 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, back to step one: 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 work to always improve your processes.