External crisis communications are important, but don’t overlook the importance of internal communications during times of crisis.

Employees are your number one stakeholder—your brand ambassadors—and effective employee communication is indispensible to minimizing crisis-related damage.  Some things to consider, inspired by our friends at Melcrum:

Plan

First and foremost, have a crisis communication strategy and matching plan.  Clearly articulate assignments and responsibilities in advance of the crisis with designated backups for each role.

Then train your team with realistic crisis scenarios—don’t stop there; conduct recurring media training and crisis management drills.

Open Dialogue

You have a much better chance of achieving your communication objectives if there is already an open dialogue with your team. Don’t let internal communications be a weakness before you even get to the crisis. Know your team, how they prefer to be communicated with (intranet, email, companywide meeting) and how they get their information (water cooler, direct supervisor). Then use these channels along with crisis specific communication tools developed uniquely for your firm.

Team First

Whenever possible, address your team first—internal crisis communications should come before external crisis communications. The dialogue should be honest and include as many employees as possible. This will help the team gain a better understanding of the issues, as well as garner employee support for possibly unpopular but necessary actions company leadership may have to take to manage the crisis.

Management should be upfront about what is happening and timely—the better informed and more entrusted the employees feel, the more favorably they will represent their company and support its goals internally as well as externally. True anytime, but especially important during a crisis.

Message

Consistency of message is more important than the vehicle used to deliver the message. That raises the importance of having appropriately trained and designated employees to serve as spokespeople.

But be warned, employees have a natural tendency to discuss stressful work-related events with family and friends. Guide employees in their effort to speak up for the company. Empowering your team—not just the designated spokespeople—to take charge in times of crisis creates valuable communication allies who reinforce messages internally and also carry them into the community.

Be sure to draft a message statement communicating regret and empathy as well as a clear explanation of the steps the company is taking to deal with the situation and to prevent recurrences. Be sure to incorporate any legal and other restrictions on the dissemination of certain information relating to the crisis.

Crises are a part of the organizational life cycle. It is critical to be crisis-trained and prepared. If you don’t have the necessary knowledge or crisis communication experience, consider retaining qualified external consultants. They can assist in boosting the company’s crisis readiness as well as its ability to effectively respond to and quickly recover from business crises. Now get to work on that crisis communications strategy!

by Angela Carter