Don’t Wait: How Internal Communications Professionals Can Prepare for the Next Phase of Crisis
We are entering the highly anticipated second phase of the COVID-19 pandemic (vaccine distribution), and the expectations of how we handle the pandemic are going to be much more scrutinized. Many internal communications professionals got a bit of a pass when the pandemic began because it was new territory and information was evolving by the minute. That’s not necessarily going to be true this time around. Just as we look to our government and schools to have plans to support our families, employees will look to their leaders (both direct managers and executive teams) to have plans to protect them and their jobs.
Employees are depending on us to take action to better support them this time. Which means not waiting until we think the time is “right” to implement new tools, train managers on communication, or initiate stronger collaboration cross-functionally. The time to show your employees how important they are to your organization is now.
So, what can we do as internal communicators to ensure our employees feel that we have our shit together this time?
Top Five Suggestions for Preparing Your Crisis Communication Strategy:
Ask your frontline managers what they need to be better communicators.
Your employees will look to their direct managers first, and your managers want to support them with accurate and timely information. So, find out what format your managers want to receive communication. Which day of the week is best for weekly updates and what time of day is best for daily updates? Even if you have a good sense of the answers, your managers will appreciate being asked for their preference and even more that you listen and make adjustments.
Conduct a start, stop, and continue evaluation.
Look at what you’ve been doing since March, and honestly evaluate the effectiveness of those plans. What should you start doing based on employee feedback and the current state of the business? Is there anything you should you stop doing because it was not effective and your employees will expect a pivot in strategy? What do you need to continue doing because it’s what your employees both want and need right now? This will help you stay agile and flexible in your strategy and maintain focus on the employee experience.
Regularly communicate employee feedback and engagement levels with executive leadership.
Any decisions that are happening in the boardroom (or Zoomroom) should have employee voices represented. Ensure that leaders know what employees want and need from the organization so that decisions can be made with full awareness of the employee experience.
Be transparent, genuine, and empathetic in your communication.
This is where you get to read the room and avoid an “ok boomer” moment. People are upset, anxious, overwhelmed, and (insert pretty much any other adjective here) right now. They want to know that the organization has some level of understanding of these emotions and their impact on performance and engagement. This doesn’t mean completely dropping expectations for productivity, customer service, or upholding safety standards. But it does mean communicating about those expectations in a way that makes employees feel important and essential to the business’s success, the experience of their customers or patients, and their peers. It means saying to your employees, “it’s ok to not be ok and we’re here to help however we can.”
Don’t wait to take action.
Although times of uncertainty and crisis might not seem like the best time to conduct your internal comms audit, adopt a new tool, or make a change. It’s exactly the right time. When the pandemic began, you likely discovered many gaps in your communication strategy or crisis plan that you didn’t know existed. Were you able to reach everyone? Were you able to engage furloughed workers? How did you manage the morale of frontline employees who felt more sacrificial than essential? What support did they need that you couldn’t provide? Now is the time to act.
Internal communicators are some of the most resilient and adaptable professionals I know. You know how to make an impact through communication. You have the power to activate your employees with your content. As long as you clearly define the action you are aiming to initiate because of your words, you will deliver what your employees want and need at this critical moment. If you need help reaching your frontline employees, we can help.
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