If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few years it’s that the only constant is change. And whether it’s pandemic-sized or something that hits closer to home, employees are watching closely, taking stock of how their company manages when change hits crisis mode.
Communication has a huge impact on how an organization and its employees weather a crisis. Effective communication strategies ensure that:
- Employees receive timely, clear direction on what they need to know and do
- Leaders know how to respond and get answers to employees’ questions
- Messaging is consistent inside the company and externally
Preparing for the next crisis begins by making sure you have a solid communication foundation in place. But remember to be flexible and adjust based on the situation and needs of each crisis.
When you’re not in crisis-mode, prioritize these three strategies:
1. Understand how well your communications system works
A strategic system—the mix of communication channels and messaging you use—will help you handle a crisis. Take the time to understand what’s working well about your system and identify where you can make improvements.
The most comprehensive approach is to conduct an audit. Use both qualitative (e.g., focus groups and interviews) and quantitative (e.g., survey results, intranet metrics and channel assessment) data to get well-rounded results. The feedback will help you make decisions about the right channel mix to use and types of messages that resonate.
2. Prepare leaders for their communication role during a crisis
In times of crisis, everyone looks to leaders. They need to know how to answer questions from media and employees, they need to be buttoned up on messaging and they need to be skilled communicators.
Host crisis communication preparation workshops for leaders. Identify potential situations that your company could face and develop scenarios for leaders to walk through and a framework for responding to them. These workshops will help leaders understand what’s expected of them and the value of being responsive, transparent and consistent during a crisis.
3. Team up with your external communication group
You will spend lots of time with your external counterpart when a crisis hits, so it’s important to establish a strong relationship throughout the year. Schedule regular meetings to get their insight and support. The more candid and open you are, the more they will feel like part of your team. Consider diving into these questions:
- Are you aligned on important messaging (e.g., responding to racial injustice, establishing safety protocols, etc.)?
- Are you speaking with a unified voice when telling your company story?
- Are you celebrating and building awareness for the same causes?
- Are there opportunities to collaborate?
We don’t know when or how the next crisis will hit but building a strong communication foundation will ensure you’re ready to take it on.