Crisis Communications from the Inside OutBy Kornel Bohm

We often focus only on the external side of crisis communications, however the internal component is just as, if not more, important…and often overlooked.

Employees of an organization are the most important protectors and brand advocates and protectors of corporate reputation.

It is they who—with their hands-on presence, call center activity, and use of social media—personify the company in the eyes of the public opinion.

Whether you like it or not, employees are a major component of any crisis communications. Therefore must also be part of an effective crisis communications plan.

The Golden Rules of Internal Crisis Communications

To be able to truly count on the support of employees during a crisis, an organization must focus on a few golden rules or crisis communications before, during, and after a crisis occurs.

Before a crisis, and as an on-going practice, a company should treat employees with:

  1. Truthfulness. Open, frank communication within the organization is expected at all times. Every day communication is crisis communications because it helps develop a sense of trust and consistency among employees. Unpleasant topics need to be covered just as truthfully as a newsletter packed with positive items of news. By creating two-way forums of open communication you can build trust. And that trust will transfer over during time of crisis.
  2. Transparency. Clear operation of a company is an evident demand from the public and its employees. Its functioning should be well-defined, ethical, and abided by so the majority won’t doubt the innocence of the company or at least its good intentions at the time of a crisis that might threaten with loss of reputation.
  3. Loyalty. Naturally, loyalty towards an employer cannot be established from one day to the next. Both parties have a lot to do in order to achieve commitment and trust. On the employer’s side, a correct assessment of achievement, ensuring possible promotion, ethical conduct, and CSR programs are all acts that can increase a sense of loyalty. Committed employees will—even in the event of trouble—stand by the organization and help defend and restore the company’s good name. 

Crisis Communication in Real-Time

During a crisis, proper crisis communications with employees can help reduce the effects of the crisis and advance the speedy recovery of a company. 

The golden rules of internal crisis communications at this stage include:

  • Direct information. Employees should duly expect to receive information directly from their employer rather than from journalists or social media. The lack of a creditable and timely briefing on the part of the management can generate huge amounts of frustration, especially if a client broaches the issue of a crisis first. A sincere and swift channel of internal information and crisis communications is of key significance at the very moment of the outbreak of a crisis.
  • Remain cool and collected. The outbreak of a crisis naturally triggers uncertainty, fear, and frustration in employees. At such times public attention is heightened as well, giving way—beyond fear and confusion—to other emotions and phenomena such as gloating, indignation, “disaster tourism,” or muck-raking. It is important, therefore, that both the employees and the public receive an explanatory briefing as to the causes producing the crisis, possible consequences, and their feasible handling.
  • Guidance. Employees expect the management to have a plan for solving the crisis. Even if there is an element of the uncertain on the management’s side regarding the handling of the situation this should on no account be part of the internal or the external crisis communication.

Learning from Crisis

Crises come and go and of course we try to be bettered by the events hitting our organization.

Were we to fail to draw these lessons we would miss a chance to learn and make progress.

Adequate internal crisis communication can play a vital role in this.

  • Drawing the lesson. Don’t allow the experience of crisis to slip away, leaving only damage behind. Weigh the balance jointly with your colleagues and make the necessary amendments in the work process and company policies, alike. Incorporate these lessons in the crisis scenario script. The public also has to be informed of the fact that the company has done everything in its power to counteract the damage and has drawn the adequate conclusions from the incident.
  • Restoring reputation. Regaining the good name and esteem of an organization is a slow and energy-demanding task. The help of loyal workers is as necessary as it is during the handling of the crisis. With the assistance of employees through slow and consistent work and crisis communication, good reputation too can be gradually regained in the public eye.
  • Business as usual. Having deflected the crisis, endeavor to get back to your daily routine and—bearing in mind the lesson to be learned—leave the crisis behind. 

What policies do you have in place to engage employees and practice effective internal crisis communications?

A version of this post was published in PRNews’ Employee Communications Guidebook Vol5

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Kornel Bohm

Kornél Bőhm is a crisis communication expert based out of Hungary and founder of Spindoc Communications Network

View all posts by Kornel Bohm