Whether it’s a natural disaster, a criminal incident such as a mass shooting or fraud, or even a global pandemic, every business — no matter the size — will at some point experience an event which could have a substantial impact on its survival.
Large companies have crisis plans outlining the steps to be taken to mitigate the impact of an incident, which includes communicating to key audiences. However, many small or midsize companies lack such a plan.
To help you mitigate the pitfalls of communication with employees and customers during scary times, now or in the future, here are seven steps to follow.
Assemble a team: Whenever you take on a major project or initiative, you always assemble your top team to strategize and execute. The same is true when communicating during a crisis. Bring together a small, influential group of decision makers who touch all aspects of your business to create the strategy and make decisions.
Identify and prioritize: Take a deep look at your business and determine exactly who are all of the audiences who could be impacted by a change in your business. Other than the obvious employees and customers, this could include government and community officials, potential customers, contractors, etc. Then, put them in groups to determine the amount of communication they require and the type of information they should receive.
Consistent channels: It’s important your audiences know from where (and who) they will receive updated information. Decide whether an e-newsletter or in-person meetings will work best, but know anything sent via email can (and probably will) be forwarded. Also, establish the cadence of when information will be sent, such as the beginning or end of the day, and stick to that schedule.
One voice: Along with consistent channels and timing, there should be one entity or individual, such as Human Resources or the CEO him/herself, who delivers all information during a crisis.
Open, honest messaging: Most companies talk openly and honestly with their employees and customers in regards to performance, deliveries, issues, etc. year-round, so the same should be true during a crisis. Share the facts which are available, being sure to keep personal or proprietary information safeguarded. Be honest, and if you don’t have an answer to a question, it is OK to say “I don’t know.”
Monitor and correct: During a crisis, rumors and assumptions are bound to appear. Be sure to monitor social media channels and listen to employees so you can correct misinformation in your next e-newsletter or meeting. If possible, establish a phone number or email address where your audiences can have their questions or concerns answered.
Evaluate the hits and misses: Post-crisis assessments are as important as pre-crisis plans. After the fact, review how the communication plan was executed to determine what succeeded and what can be improved.
By following these steps, you will keep your employees and customers well informed and confident in you and your business, leading to long-term relationships.
Keith Bowermaster, APR, is president of The Modig Group, a public relations and crisis & issues management firm located in Cumming. http://modiggroup.com