Crisis Management

Limiting negative impact as much as possible with transparent communication.

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Cyber and security threats, natural disasters, negative publicity and pandemics are just a few of the events that can negatively impact a business. These days, having a crisis management plan in place is not only common, it’s practically essential. In their simplest form, crisis situations have 3 phases: before, during and after. A proper crisis management plan is the first defense to prepare your business before disaster strikes.

What is a crisis management plan?

A crisis management plan should be brief and flexible so it can be easily enacted and quickly adapted to fit the situation. A crisis management plan enables a better response, and can have other positive benefits, too, according to this SHRM article about creating a crisis management plan. There are many resources for developing a crisis management plan, such as Forbes’ 14 Ways to Build a Solid Crisis Management Strategy.

Crisis management and communication

A key component of any crisis management plan relates to the communication that will take place when a crisis occurs. Consider the best ways to respond and share information so you’re ready to react at a moment’s notice. Split your methods into addressing internal and external audiences. Here we'll focus on the internal audience — your employees.

The crisis communication plan considers the worst-case scenario and identifies the who, what and how. Here are some basic components for communicating effectively to your employees.

Identify the communication team and their roles and responsibilities. The crisis team likely includes representation from Legal, HR, Communications and Finance, among others. It identifies who will create, review and push out critical messaging. Because time is of the essence, avoid too many layers of review and approval or over-centralization, warns Harvard Business Review.

Outline the communication channels. Be clear about which are used, and which are not. It’s important to consider the audience — employees in this case. What can the majority of employees quickly access, especially when away from the workplace? You might have a designated spot on your intranet that can be turned on at a moment’s notice. Use the same channels on repeat so employees know they have a reliable place to turn to for up-to-date information.

Consider the top-down approach. Employees will instinctively look to their immediate managers and local leadership for further details and guidance during uncertainty. Equip managers and HR with talking points to give them confidence in what’s happening and ensure consistent messaging.

Develop templates. It’s near impossible to anticipate potential crises, but you can be prepared with templates. Prepare a basic outline so key messaging can be inserted when the time comes. Be sure to consider each of your channels. For instance, create a template for global delivery and another template for local delivery.

How to manage crisis communication

Be timely, be frequent. Speed is absolutely key to limiting the damage, which means quick decision making is critical. Aim to be the first to communicate. You need to get ahead of whatever is happening to control the messages and avoid misinformation. Frequency matters, too because employees are craving information and seeking reassurance.

Be clear and accurate. HR jargon rarely has a place in internal communication, especially in crisis mode. Use plain language and be clear in your messaging. Are you asking people to be aware or take action? Be absolutely certain that any facts are checked to avoid retracting messages.

Be human. Be authentic and transparent. You may not have all the answers and that’s okay — pass on what you know. Be empathetic and share the positives when appropriate. Promote relevant policies, benefits and resources, such as employee assistance programs, that people may need.

PartnerComm case studies

PartnerComm was invited to design COVID-19 employee email communication for a large biotechnology company at the forefront of manufacturing COVID-19 tests. They needed to show immediate support to their employees during a time when things were changing nearly every 24 hours. Employees were kept in the loop through rapid-fire communication containing direct links to benefits and messaging wrapped with positivity.

PartnerComm also supported a global logistics company — a workforce that was never suspended due to the pandemic. Digital platforms and an HR support kit provided just-in-time information.

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