Because of COVID-19, many corporate communicators will be writing contingency and crisis communications for employee audiences. Such communications serve many purposes within a business continuity plan, from advising employees on ways to minimize risk and access health resources, to creating temporary remote offices and workflows. While details differ with each organization, communicating in a reassuring manner will smooth the way in difficult times.
Leadership and, by extension, internal communicators must instill confidence among employees as they face disruptions to normal routines and levels of certainty. Ideally, your organization has contingency planning that serves as a roadmap to help you navigate a variety of situations—financial crises, scandals, natural disasters, etc. The goal of this planning is a process model encompassing all phases of your response before and after a crisis hits.
Assuming you have a process in place, there are certain established practices that will help reassure employee audiences. Together they help build voices, tone and content that employees will trust and follow.
Keys to success
Prepare before you communicate. Before you begin messaging, inform yourself as much as possible. Understand the parameters of the crisis:
- Emergency information from trusted sources
- How this will affect your business
- How this will affect your employees
- Projected timeframe
- Steps being taken to mitigate impact
- Costs to stakeholders
A complete picture will help you determine what needs to be communicated and when.
Integrate with other planning. If you have a crisis communication plan, integrate these communications into that process. Don’t freelance or wing it. If you don’t have a crisis plan, make one and stick to it. When you get new information or new contingencies, integrate them into the flow you’ve established. A disciplined approach builds confidence in your audiences.
Establish a face to the crisis. A CEO should offer assurances that a plan is in place and a high-level overview of that plan is ongoing. After that, if you have the resources, designate an information officer for the crisis. If not, appoint a spokesperson personifying leadership to employees and with experience in communicating to handle day-to-day messaging. If the crisis persists, this person can become an important and comforting presence to employees.
Create a vehicle for listening. Employees will have questions and concerns. Often these are things you haven’t considered, or concerns that are shared and need to be addressed. Internal social media platforms, audio and video conferencing offer many ways to create meaningful feedback mechanisms. Make these open. Set a tone that there are no stupid questions, while making sure conversations are managed by informed facilitators.
Be honest. Tell your employees what you know and what you don’t know. If you’ve gathered information from important customers, partners or other sources that are opaque to employees, make those transparent. Also, share details of leadership’s response plan. You’re all on the same team and employees want to sense that they too are informed.
Show empathy to employees. The unknowns of a crisis create a lot of stress and concern in employees. They depend on their jobs to feed and shelter their families, which makes the health of the company among their highest concerns. Demonstrate that you are aware of these concerns and show empathy for employees’ situation. If you have material ways to reassure them, express those. In any case, let them know that leadership is concerned with their well-being.
Communicate consistently. Make sure your messages are consistent in content, tone and frequency. News flashes and warnings may sell news media advertising, but they aren’t reassuring. Make sure each message is built on the previous content. Even if the situation shifts, make sure you are building on the precepts and contingencies you established initially.
Don’t over promise. People will want guarantees of positive outcomes. Other than general assurances that the company is committed to working through the crisis, don’t promise specifics that are uncertain. For example, a temporary remote working set-up might evolve into a permanent situation, so don’t promise employees that they’ll be back in the office soon.
Keep on communicating. For the duration of the crisis, keep the information flowing and maintain a positive and hopeful tone. Repeat your key messages early and often. Let employees know that you are monitoring the disruption and that you will be their partner until it ends.
Time to shine
You can turn a crisis into an opportunity. When your team successfully combines these strategies you will reassure your employees. As a result, levels of trust will rise between management and employees. Overcoming obstacles builds resilience in people and organizations. Companies that lead their employees through both good and bad situations build an organization of seasoned, flexible and capable employees.More Ideas