Let’s face it: you can’t avoid a crisis. It will affect every communicator at some point. The key is preparation. It is especially important for internal communicators to be “in the loop” on what is happening with a company during the time of a crisis, because the employee audience is so critical to finding a resolution to any crisis.
Last month on EE Voice, Sharon McIntosh and Sharon Phillips talked to Andy Gilman of CommCore about crisis communications and how internal communicator can prepare. To name just a few of his accomplishments, Andy has worked on cases such as the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol scandal, helping prep chairman James Burke for his 60 Minutes interview. Andy also weighed in on the Steve Harvey “don’t talk to me”instance where Harvey sent out an internal e-mail telling his staff not to talk to him while at work. Andy has been the media’s “go-to guy” for crises, with his expertise in both communications and law.In the podcast, he offered five great pieces of advice for internal communicators:
- Build your trust with employees prior to a crisis. A lot of crises have a long-term effect on the employees and their relationship with the company. As Andy said, “What if the crisis cause employees not to trust management as much? What if the crisis cause the employees to think the wrong decisions are being made? They’ll be thinking ‘Is this a place I want to work?’”
- Be consistent with what you say internally and externally. According to Andy, “Don’t say one thing publically, then say something else to employees.” With the prevalence of social media, it’s easy for anything internal to leak externally. Consistency is key.
- Pay attention to the “Golden Hour,” the time an organization has to assess the crisis and respond, if needed. It’s important to monitor things like social media to see if the crisis is going viral – like when the United passenger was pulled from an overbooked flight – and to see who is commenting on what is going on.
“You can’t afford not to monitor, but then you have to decide ‘Do I need to respond?’” said Andy.
After the Golden Hour has passed, you have to be prepared for what’s next. As Andy noted: “Every crisis is different, and yet, they all have things in common.”
4. Checklists are key. “If you don’t have your checklists, you’re going to miss something,” says Andy. Make sure you have a checklist for every scenario possible. Andy recommended the book The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which argues that fewer mistakes are made when you have a checklist handy.
5. Conduct crisis drills – regularly. These drills are important to ensure you’re ready to tell the public what is going on and that you have a process in place for when a crisis will inevitably hit.
All in all, as an internal communicator, it is important to remember to be on the same page as everyone else in the crisis room. Employees are a critical stakeholder as part of any communication plan.