You need a robust internal communications plan to weather the storms your company faces. Answer a few questions to determine how strong your plan actually is.
Let’s start with a little quiz. What do each of the following 2013 crises have in common?
Troubled roll-out of the Obamacare government website*
“Mass espionage project” of the National Security Administration (NSA)*
Walmart’s Thanksgiving charity drive to collect food for its own employees**
Lululemon’s founder blaming customers for the poor performance of its clothing**
Apple being heavily criticized for the shorter warranty it was offering to consumers in China (compared to other countries)**
Each of these incidents is similar because they required major damage control to lessen the negative impact on the company’s reputation.
Whether it’s the president publicly acknowledging the major flaws of his organization’s new website or Apple CEO Tim Cook issuing a personal apology to the entire country of China, you must have an effective internal communications plan in place to know how to respond both internally and externally.
Managing a Crisis
Another phrase for damage control is “crisis communication” (coined by Melcrum in a wonderful article on this subject; see the source cited below). Many internal communications specialists are well acquainted with the need to communicate effectively in times of crisis, but are these plans actually good? Are they effective enough to make the problem smaller, not bigger?
It’s worth figuring out because occasionally a company’s poorly planned response will only exacerbate the problem, not put it on the back burner. A good reputation once lost is hard to build back up. But a sincere, well-crafted response to a mistake or problem can positively turn things around and define the future of your company going forward.
Becoming Experts on the Current Situation is Crucial
One of the major keys to successful crisis communication is knowledge: turn everyone in your organization into an expert on the situation. Then, when approached by external queries, there will be no confusion or doubt about how to respond or what information is permissible to share.
“For Internal Communications,” says Melcrum, “the work on social crisis communications involves nothing short of becoming experts on the crisis at hand [and includes the following]:
tracking the crisis as it evolves;
guiding leaders in their understanding of both the crisis and employees’ needs; and
balancing transparency in communications with the real limits of available knowledge.”
This third point is really valuable to understand: if you don’t have all the information others are asking for, sometimes it’s more helpful to just be honest than pretend like you have all the answers. Being updated regularly that there is no new information is often better than wondering if new details are being concealed.
It might take some analysis, but the point is to just try to strike a balance between honesty and control.
Answering Some Questions to Determine the Health of Your Internal Communications Plan
If you’re not sure about the strength of your current internal crisis communications plan, here are a few questions (from this article by Melcrum) to help you measure it:
Question #1 – What would you want to prioritize in your first employee update during a crisis?
Panicked, uninformed employees are a liability, but confident, knowledgeable employees are your best weapons to keep a crisis from spreading internally (and externally).
Question #2 – How many customer-facing employees do you have, and how will you get the right messages out for them to share?
If you’re facing a crisis that also affects people outside your organization, you must identify those employees who directly interface with the public and equip them with the correct information. If all of your employees are not on the same page, they will just expand the problem by giving out incorrect data.
Question #3 – Are you able to work speedily at your organization? Are there any clunky processes or a lack of skill or competence that might prevent smooth-as-possible crisis communications?
Speedy communication in times of crisis is everything. Rumors can travel at the speed of light via social media, so make sure you have the technology and strategy to manage the information going in and out of your organization.
Being Equipped for any Potential Problems
It’s entirely possible that your company will never experience a crisis on the same level as that of Walmart or Apple. But you can’t afford to take that chance. Make sure your internal communications plan is ready for any crisis.