Putting employees first
By Amanda Coleman (Chart PR, FCIPR, FPRCA)
Dealing with a crisis is only possible with one thing and that is a committed and dedicated workforce. They are the people who will be face-to-face with what has happened and the aftermath of it. It is vital for operational and reputational success that employees are central to the crisis communication effort.
In dealing with Covid-19 we have seen at first-hand how communicating effectively with staff can save lives and keep people safe. It has moved from being something that organisations should do, to something that is central to the effective running of the business.
Crisis communication needs to have the workforce at the heart of it. They are the people that will be keeping things running and will be representing the organisation to everyone they meet. If they understand what has happened and what it means they can share that message much wider. It is true that the need to communicate with the media, stakeholders and others often is seen as more important due to the vocal demands and perceived risks.
But I argue in my book Crisis Communication Strategies that the risks from not prioritising the internal communication are greater. The future of the business will be directly affected by how the employees manage the situation they face. If they get information before it goes public, know what is happening, see visible leadership, and can get their voice heard it creates a firm foundation for the move through crisis to recovery. Fail your employees and they will disconnect.
I have identified four key areas for employee engagement in a crisis: structures, leadership, channels, and messages. Structures to ensure swift employee communication must be in place as part of the crisis communication plan and response. This may mean internal communicators working with HR, wellbeing lead or others, but they need to work together.
Leaders at all levels need to be visible to the workforce. This does not need to be physically given the current situation. It can be through using technology but is simply making sure employees feel you understand what they are facing. It is why having a range of channels that can be used to communicate with employees is vital. You never know when one or more of them may not be accessible so know which channels you have and how they can be used.
Finally, is the complex area of messaging. Staff need to understand what has happened, what they are dealing with and what they are needed to do. Honesty, transparency, and proactivity are all critical to do this effectively. All this needs to be inclusive and have a sense of an organisation working together rather than being dictated to.
The crisis communication response needs to be balanced between time spent on speaking to employees and on the demands of the media and social media. You cannot focus solely on one at the expense of the other. This needs to run right from the moment the crisis emerges to the time that you have moved forward into and beyond recovery. It all comes down to a simple message I put in the book “employees are fundamental to the effective response to a crisis and should be central to the crisis communication strategy”.
Amanda Coleman (Chart PR, FCIPR, FPRCA) is a Crisis Communication Consultant with more than 20 years’ experience in communicating in a crisis. In 2017, Amanda led the law enforcement communication response to dealing with the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. She is the author of Crisis Communication Strategies published by Kogan Page in May 2020. Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org 07910 946627