Do you have a crisis communication plan prepared and ready to use? 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 the process, these six crisis comms planning tips will help you be more proactive about your internal reaction to a crisis.
But before we dive into planning best practices, let’s cover the basics: what is a crisis comms plan and what should it include?
What is a Crisis Communication Plan?
A crisis communication plan is a strategic framework and series of messages that a company can implement quickly in the event of a company crisis. These crises could be a response to external factors like the banking failures we’re seeing in 2023. Or your company might have a crisis plan for an internal crisis like layoffs or a change to the executive team.
What Should a Crisis Communication Plan Include?
What your crisis plan includes will depend on the type of crisis and the scale. But all crisis communication plans should include:
- What you are trying to achieve. This is the goal of your communications, which could be to educate, to quell fears, to drive some action, or a combination of things.
- The primary stakeholders. Who needs to contribute to the creation of the plan, but also who will need to approve the communications when it’s time to implement the plan.
- Contingency plans. Because we can’t predict the future, we should create crisis preparation and recovery plans for a variety of scenarios. For instance, you might have a new CEO crisis plan for the following scenarios: the CEO is retiring, your CEO has been fired, or there has been some sort of accident that prevents the CEO from continuing their role. In each of these cases, you would need a very different type of communication plan even though the basic scenario of a CEO change is taking place.
- Content templates. You don’t want to be starting from scratch when a crisis happens. One of the keys to successfully communicating during a crisis is speed. So, a crisis plan should include content templates and rough drafts. This will include a basic FAQ document.
6 Crisis Communication Plan Best Practices
Now, you’re ready to create your crisis comms plan! These six tips will help you prepare an effective strategy ahead of time.
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.
Sitting and waiting for answers can feel worse than only getting part of the story. 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. Learn from the situation and adjust your plan as needed.
Next Steps to 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.
About the Author
Amy Jenkins is theEMPLOYEEapp’s Director of Client Strategy & Success. With over ten years of experience working in internal communication, Amy helps our clients create mobile communication strategies that get results.
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