Stuff happens. At some point, you will need to respond to the death of a key employee, a PR nightmare, a natural disaster, or another urgent and critical issue. Is your team prepared to communicate on behalf of your organization during a crisis?
While it’s impossible to fully anticipate an emergency, it’s good to be prepared. While most teams have brainstormed potential scenarios and drafted general crisis communication responses, that is only part of the process. Here are a few additional resources you can prepare to help you lead through some of the most challenging situations at work.
- Segmented audience lists
For each potential crisis, who will you need to communicate with? Before you’re under the pressure of a real crisis with no time to spare, it’s helpful to map out your key audiences and consider their specific messaging needs. Depending on the crisis, typical audience segments include leadership, management, employees, employee families, and specific locations or regions impacted by an incident.
As you build your internal audience lists, consider these questions:
- Which executives need to contribute to (and approve) our messaging? How will we reach them?
- If necessitated by the crisis, can we accurately target employee groups by site and by region?
- What questions will our employees have? What questions will management have?
While your employees may wonder, “Will I still get paid?” or “Is it safe to return to work?”, management may ask, “Was anyone injured?” or “How bad is the property damage?”
It’s also important to coordinate lists for external audiences — considering the needs of customers, suppliers, media, government officials, and other members of the community or public.
Since email is a primary channel, PoliteMail provides tools to help you create and manage targeted distribution lists within Outlook using both active directory and HR system data, and you can always import from a CSV file — which can be helpful when creating lists output from different systems, or for external contacts.
- Template crisis response messages
While it’s not possible to prepare draft messaging for every crisis, your response team should draft some basic message templates for the most likely scenarios.
For instance, let’s say a key employee dies suddenly. How will leadership respond? Joe Spratt, a communications expert with McKinsey & Co., says, “The leader must acknowledge the pain, understand it and personalize it.” Conversely, in the event of a technological failure, the focus may instead be on communicating your awareness of the problem and clearly explaining the resolution path and anticipated timeframe.
Whatever the situation, most crisis response messages should include a concise summary of the incident, contact information, and if appropriate, practical advice or next steps for the recipient (e.g., shelter in place, evacuate).
Also, consider the format used for these critical communications. How will employees differentiate a crisis communication from any other message? Do you have a special From Address? Perhaps a color or icon indicator within the message, or a specific subject line prefix? These details can be templated and shared using communications tools such as PoliteMail to help you prepare.
- Answer the tough questions
As your team considers each crisis situation, it’s important to consider the questions your people may ask in the immediate aftermath and as the crisis evolves. Most questions will fall within these five categories:
- Context regarding the crisis (e.g., How did this happen?);
- An outline of the incident (e.g., Who was involved and impacted?);
- How your organization is responding;
- The immediate and potential impact of the crisis;
- And risk management (e.g., What you’re doing now, and what you may do to prevent the situation from escalating, or to avoid similar circumstances, if applicable).
You can include key questions and answers like these within your message templates, and your team can edit the template to provide appropriate answers during a crisis. The same template may be used to address those impacted (or directly affected), and by removing some of the Q&A or directive sections, the same format can be used to provide information to employees who were not directly impacted.
Remember, people struggle to process complicated or dense information during a crisis, so keep your templates simple, organized, concise, and factual.
Why you want to strengthen your crisis communications plan
PwC recently reported that 95% of business leaders thought their crisis management capabilities needed improvement. One way to improve your crisis communications response plan is to prepare the tools and resources ahead of time. After you brainstorm potential crisis situations, identify the segmented distribution lists you will need, and initiate projects to keep them accurate and up to date. Draft template response messages and thoughtful FAQ scripts so your team is ready to provide answers to important questions.
While it’s difficult to prevent a workplace crisis, you can mitigate risk and prepare empathetic communications that will make it easier for you to lead your organization through tough times.