When it comes to workplace crisis, it’s not if it will happen, it’s when it will happen next. With the current state of the economy, every company should be carefully considering how they address employee concerns and keep morale up. Although this might not seem like a crisis in the same way that the COVID-19 pandemic did, it still is one. And should be taken seriously. That’s why we’re sharing our 4 crisis comms best practices and a real-world example of why it’s so important.
What Are Crisis Comms?
Crisis comms are the messages a company sends during anything they would consider a crisis. This is not limited to things like natural disasters or dangerous situations on site. It can also include business crises, like a PR scandal or turnover in the C-Suite. In all these situations, an internal comms team needs to be ready with a response.
In this blog, we’ll focus on 4 best practices for communicating about any kind of crisis.
4 Crisis Comms Best Practices
- Enable your people managers. In a crisis, employees will turn to their managers first. It’s important to include your managers early on in your crisis comms strategy. Give them the resources and tools they will need to answer questions. If you don’t do this and your managers are unprepared during a crisis, you might cause more of a panic.
- Don’t wait to plan ahead. Don’t wait until the next crisis inevitably happens to fix your systems and create agile strategies. Conduct a Stop, Start, Continue Analysis of your crisis plan today so you are always ready. And create pre-approved communications plans so you aren’t starting from scratch when the next crisis happens.
- Embrace transparency. When you are more transparent and empathetic during a crisis, you will meet employees where they are. This helps show them you care and that their feedback matters to you when decisions are being made.
- Invest in crisis communication channels. Don’t wait to invest in new channels that won’t let you down during a crisis. Whether it’s an app or a crisis hotline, think about how you want employees to be able to reach you during a crisis (is it a mobile employee app? SMS texting?). Get this technology in place and train employees on how to use it, so it’s second-nature when they really need it.
Why Are These Effective Crisis Strategies?
So, why are these four crisis comms best practices so important to follow? What’s at risk when we aren’t prepared for a crisis?
When we fail to communicate during a crisis—or even just fail to respond in a timely manner—you leave the door open for gossip or damage to your business, reputation, or your people, depending on the type of crisis.
As you can imagine, this can cost your company money, lead to churn, and even hurt your ability to hire top talent.
Think of all the CEO stories in the news lately for their comments to employees. This is a type of crisis that can damage your company’s reputation, hurt morale, and lead to churn. That’s a lot of dollars adding up that could have been avoided with better executive communications.
Let’s look at an example.
The MillerKnoll “Pity City” CEO Video
The CEO of MillerKnoll went viral for telling her employees to leave ”pity city” and stop asking for bonuses during a town hall.
The town hall where the “Pity City” comments were made should have been treated like crisis communications. They had to tell their employees they weren’t getting bonuses as a result of the state of the business and economy. That’s a type of crisis, right?
But instead of quelling employee fears over the economy and their pay, she actually created an even worse, and very public, crisis for the company.
What Did MillerKnoll Do Wrong?
So, how did a company town hall become a full blown crisis? Let’s look at the video, piece by piece. But keep in mind this clip is being taken out of context of the rest of the all-hands meeting, but tone alone made this problematic.
“A lot of questions came through about ‘how can we stay motivated if we’re not going to get a bonus? What can we do?’ Some of them were nice and some of them were not so nice. So, I’m going to address this head-on.”
Right away, there’s an edge to the CEOs voice. But we’re all for addressing employee concerns directly!
“The most important thing we can do right now is focus on the things that we can control. None of us could have predicted COVID. None of us could have predicted supply chain. None of us could have predicted bank failures. But what we can do is stay in front of our customers, provide the best customer service we can, get our orders out our door, treat each other well, be kind, be respectful, focus on the future because it will be bright.
It’s not good to be in the situation we’re in today, but we’re not going to be here forever. It is going to get better, so lead. Lead by example, treat people well, talk to them, be kind, and get after it.”
I actually think this is good employee communication. Since she’s telling her employees that they won’t get a bonus, it’s important to talk about why and how to be a united front. And she does that. She talks about the situation they’re in but with a note of optimism: the future will be bright.
“Don’t ask about ‘what are we going to do if we don’t get a bonus?’ Get the damn 26 million dollars! Spend your time and your effort thinking about the 26 million dollars we need and not thinking about what you’re going to do if you don’t get a bonus. Alright? Can I get some commitment for that? I would really appreciate that.”
Here, her tone really shifts. She yells and tells employees not to ask about bonuses at all. This only discourages having an open culture and one where concerns are brought forward early on.
“I had an old boss who said to me one time ‘you can visit pity city, but you can’t live there.’ So people, leave pity city, let’s get it done. Thank you. Have a great day.”
And finally we have the viral quote, “leave pity city.” This comes right on the heels of the CEO telling everyone to be kind and treat people well. Not to mention, her saying they need to lead by example. And this is blatantly disrespectful in response to a very honest question.
What Should MillerKnoll Do Now?
We could talk a lot about how they could have run that town hall differently, but what’s more important is what they should do now. How do they address the crisis they created?
It has to start with empathy. It’s okay if you can’t pay bonuses, but understanding that this might disappoint your teams is key to properly responding. Using our crisis comms best practices, here’s a strategy they could implement:
- Talk to your people managers. I have a lot of sympathy for people managers having to console and talk to their teams after that town hall. They were probably blindsided. That’s why it’s critical to start looping in managers. MillerKnoll will need to have an internal apology and then talking points for managers to support employees.
- Embrace transparency. Although this CEO candidly shared her thoughts on the subject, that’s not really what we mean by transparency. In this case, employees want to know when bonuses will be reinstated and why they won’t get a bonus other than “because of the economy.” And this isn’t a one and done. MillerKnoll has to rebuild trust with their employees and that’s going to take time.
- Plan ahead. I don’t believe that an internal comms team would have approved this CEO communication if they had planned ahead. And that’s what they need to do going forward. They need to look at all the repercussions of the CEO’s comments and the long-term consequences of bad publicity, not to mention employee morale and the wave of resignations that could be coming. To avoid more mistakes like this, they really do need to plan and be prepared to address employee concerns in the future.
Crisis Comms Best Practices: Additional Resources
There is a lot that goes into a crisis communication plan. While these four tips get you started, we know that there is a lot of strategizing, planning, and preparing to do to be successful in navigating a crisis. So, use these free resources to help form your strategy:
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