6 Crisis Communication Planning Tips
Last updated on May 26, 2022 at 03:50 pm
Crisis communication planning is top of mind for all comms teams. If the last few years have taught us anything, we need to be prepared for the unexpected. Although not all crises are as severe, lasting, and unpredictable as COVID-19, it was a great reminder that we need to prepare in advance to respond adequately during any crisis.
Have you planned adequately for a crisis to be ready to reach all your employees and own the internal narrative? Is your leadership team in the loop and supportive of the plan? Regardless of where you are in creating a crisis comms strategy, use these six crisis comms tips to be more proactive about your internal reaction to a crisis.
1. Pre-Approve Basic Crisis Response Messages
Some crises are unpredictable…but a lot aren’t. All companies could experience:
- Public relations issues (e.g., a negative story about your company in the news)
- Systems going down
- Severe weather
And based on whatever industry you’re in, there are industry-specific crises that can occur. For example, in the restaurant industry, you may experience food recalls or shortages. Manufacturing and logistics can experience safety issues. In healthcare, a PPE shortage impacts your staff’s ability to do their jobs safely. Any situation that you can predict negatively impacting your employees or business—or that requires some major change—can be prepared for in advance.
It’s key to have a pre-approved plan in place for these situations, so you’re able to respond quickly. We recommend taking the time with key stakeholders to review what some of the most common crisis scenarios are for your business and agree on a plan of attack—including the internal communication strategy.
Then take your crisis comms planning a step further and think of the catastrophic crisis scenarios. COVID-19 couldn’t have been predicted, but thinking of worst-case scenarios and having even the skeleton of a plan can make a huge difference. The faster you can respond, the better off your employees and your company will be.
2. Keep Employees at the Center of Your Crisis Communications Plan
The initial reaction in a crisis is to control the narrative externally. Don’t forget about your employees. They want to be in the know and don’t want to find out about a crisis through other sources. They want to hear it from you first.
By ensuring they are looped in early and aware of crisis protocols, you build trust and create a sense of security. Like the external narrative, it’s easy for misinformation to spread internally. And this can be just as damaging, if not more so. For instance, if a CEO suddenly resigns or is let go, you want to get ahead of the questions about what that means for your company to prevent panic.
3. Loop in your leaders
Even if it’s just a few minutes before, giving your frontline managers a heads-up on what is about to be communicated will give them time to prepare for questions from their team, not to mention demonstrate a unified response company-wide. Take it from someone who knows—there is no worse feeling for a manager to have to answer the question of what’s going on with the response: “I don’t know, I just found out too.”
4. Give Employees an Internal Channel to Ask Questions
Employees will have questions. Rather than having them ask them publicly on social media channels (or via gossip), give them a channel that you can control. The key to success here is to make sure you are ready to monitor it and respond quickly, otherwise, employees will still turn to these other channels.
Another key to successful crisis communication planning is to not wait until the worst scenario happens to take action. So, don’t wait to create a crisis channel. Make one right now! And if you want employees to be able to use it, start the change management process now too, so they know the channel exists and what it’s used for. That way, when the time comes that there’s some kind of crisis, big or small, they already know the channel exists and can use it.
5. Respond Quickly, Yet Deliberatively
When communicating about a crisis, share just the right amount of information. There will be confidential details that don’t need to be disclosed (especially if legal is involved and is still working to understand the facts). The most important thing is to acknowledge the situation quickly and assure your employees that you will let them know what is going on as soon as the details are known.
But COVID-19 has shown us that sitting and waiting for answers can feel worse. Sometimes the best thing to do is send a message that says, “we understand that you have questions about x, y, and z. We are still working on getting the answers.” Sometimes acknowledgment is half the battle. Of course, the answers to questions in a crisis are vital, so time is still of the essence, but this will go a long way in preventing panic or your employees thinking you’re apathetic to their concerns.
6. Conduct a Post-Crisis Evaluation of the Plan
Like every campaign you create, it’s key to analyze what worked and what didn’t.
- Were your people leaders given enough information to communicate effectively with their direct reports?
- Did the information get to them quickly and efficiently?
- Do employees understand the impact of the crisis both on the company as a whole, their teams, and themselves?
- Did the messaging align with the vision/mission/values?
Ask your employees these questions. Then, learn from the situation and adjust your plan as needed.
Get Ahead of Crisis
Employee engagement and morale are tested and at their most vulnerable during crisis and change. Being transparent with employees and letting them see through your actions and leadership are critical during tough times. Doing this will be key to dispelling rumors and maintaining employee trust, which is possible with proactive crisis communication planning.
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