When a crisis strikes the speed of response to the media and the public is critical. There is a lot of talk about a ‘golden hour’ when organisations need to be saying something to ensure they are starting to command the situation. In those instances the communication department’s focus is clearly on trying to manage how the incident is being interpreted. It is very easy to put all the effort and resources into external communication alone.
But when the emergency or crisis hits having an engaged and knowledgeable workforce is fundamental to ensure you have the most effective communication plan. It is your staff that will be living through the turmoil and trying to manage the incident taking place. Others may be on the outside of the incident and will be continuing to ensure the business continues to function. External communication can be quickly undermined if the staff are not fully briefed about the key messages to be communicated. The organisation may also find itself under attack from staff that have become disengaged because they feel as though they are being kept in the dark.
During major incidents and crises the demands from the journalists or from queries on social media can overwhelm the communication team, so where in all this turmoil does internal communication fit?
For me, there is no alternative to having a core internal communication team put in place quickly to assist in managing any serious incident or crisis. This team should be in place to do five key things:
1. Ensure that senior leaders are fully aware of the circumstances and any changes that have taken place before information is released to the media or public. This will allow them to identify problem issues but also to start to define how the organisation can move forward.
2. Provide frequent updates to the whole organisation about the latest situation and what it means both to them as individuals and the wider organisation. The purpose to develop or maintain staff engagement.
3. Ensure visibility from the top brass across the organisation with a priority on key areas affected or impacted by the event. This will bring the organisation together.
4. Understand the concerns from staff and find innovative ways to be able to address them throughout the incident. Take the message to them don’t just expect them to find information themselves.
5. Develop long-term plans and assist the organisation in a return to normality. The aim has to be to help the organisation grow stronger from a shared learning experience.
This might all sound fine in an abstract sort of way. It isn’t abstract, it is very real. I have been through one of the most challenging times in my professional communication career during the past two weeks. The media focus has been relentless and the buzz on social media has been intense all of which had to be dealt with. But the work of the internal communication team has been at the heart of managing events. Getting information and messages to staff was never more important.
When the next incident, crisis or major event hits your business are you ready and will you be able to remember those close to home? Will you be able to say you engaged with staff and helped the organisation become stronger?