Why it’s high time to embrace internal comms during moments of crisis

Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe is managing director EMEA at SocialChorus.

On a global level, we’re at a time of great change and, some would say, immense uncertainty. We are living in times of uncharted territory, where sudden 360 turns are happening and, in terms of business, trying to steady the turbulent tide seems to be getting even tougher.

During such times, when events are completely out of their hands and also their workforce’s hands, businesses need to plan and prepare, more so than ever. In times of instability, employee engagement and productivity will often be negatively affected. Employees may have concerns and questions that, if not addressed by their employer, will be answered by less informed and unreliable sources. Don’t let this happen – false or misleading information will only make things worse.

Last year a C-suite survey across a variety of sectors, by Censuswide, found that 80% of C-level execs believed that internal comms had become more important over the last 12 months. That is undoubtedly true. Notably, 95%+ said employee engagement was important to their business. As Gavin Megaw, MD of Hanover Communications said at the time, “No one can tell you what will happen to your business in the future, but the one thing that is for certain is that you’ll need your people on side.”

Unfortunately, crisis plans are best produced in quiet times, and businesses don’t currently have that luxury. One area that we can all excel in at the moment though is transparent comms – even when some of the news is ugly. When you keep employees in the loop, they become vital partners in managing a crisis and helping the company survive and thrive. With social media, employees will likely be communicating about current national and global events, and what they say can have an extensive reach. Think of them as an extension of your public relations team in an emergency. This means whatever you tell them must be consistent and as accurate as possible. It’s times like these where companies need to take their internal communications seriously.

  • Be strategic. Don’t just jump into action without first pausing to make sure your information is as accurate as possible. The last thing you want to do is put out inaccurate messages.
  • Get prepared. If you’re prepared, you’ll be in an excellent position to start getting information out to employees even if you don’t have the exact answers. Remember, you want employees to trust the authority of your messaging, and not gather information from unreliable sources.
  • Be consistent. Update them regularly so you know they consistently have the most up-to-date information.
  • Keep it simple. Draft a simple message to employees that answers or addresses their most important questions to the best of your ability. Your top priority should be to produce factual, consistent, and practical messaging.

All you can be is open and transparent with your workforce. Fudging the truth won’t lead to a good outcome for leaders, employees, or customers, no matter the current climate. People want the businesses they work for to be authentic and open. You will command greater respect in the longer run by being upfront and addressing the elephant in the room.

Reach all employees

Employees who feel disconnected from the business and don’t understand why decisions are being made are less likely to engage with new initiatives – which makes those initiatives more likely to fail. If employees aren’t getting relevant information, they may not understand or even know about company-wide business goals.

Ultimately, the best internal communicators understand their audience and support employee engagement that drives desired business outcomes. And a more connected workforce is a catalyst for improved business results. Demonstrating a level of empathy with those who are frustrated or worried during this period will also pay dividends in the long run.

Different employees consume content differently. Some employees will check email regularly, others only have access to their smartphones or tablets during work, some may prefer a phone call or a notice on your intranet. One method of communication will not be enough. You need to meet your employees where they are, and this includes having a plan in place in case your primary means of communication is not available.

Communicating may include:

  • Setting up special channels on your branded mobile app that can be activated at a moment’s notice
  • Drafting holding statements so you aren’t preparing them when you should already be disseminating information
  • Choosing a point person for each scenario
  • Setting up human resources to be able to effectively communicate with employees

Empower employees by giving them a voice

Listen to the voices of your employees – sooner rather than later. It’s up to leaders to listen and act.  The higher you get in an organisation the more selective your view becomes, and the more danger there is that you’re in an echo chamber. Leaders don’t necessarily get a broad spectrum of feedback about what’s going on in a company at every level.

You must let your employees have a voice, so you have a clear view of what’s happening at all levels of your company, for all employee segments. Don’t fear it, empower people.

Do not tolerate bad apples

As a business leader you have the responsibility to create a safe, productive environment in which all your employees can work and thrive. Don’t tolerate bad behaviour or tasteless banter during uncertainty. While employees will have different opinions, encourage a level of understanding and support across your workforce. In return, you could create a place where people feel safe and wanted.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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