Top Tips to Communicate With Employees Through Crisis
Last updated on May 18, 2022 at 08:35 pm
Host: In March 2020, internal communicators’ crisis comms plans were put to the test in an unprecedented way as COVID-19 began to have dramatic impacts on daily life and the workplace. So we brought two internal comms experts together on a webinar to talk about best practices: Alison Davis, CEO of Davis & Company, and Ann Melinger, CEO of Brilliant Ink.
What are your top tips for internal comms pros during a crisis?
Ann Melinger: One of the number one things that we’ve been advising is to lead with humanity. Make sure everything you’re doing is expressing the real recognition of where we are right now. One example as we were leading a talk with one of our clients last week and the CEO was talking to the entire organization and his son walked in the room, and he stopped and said hi, my son just walked in and said, “Son, I’m speaking to the whole company, do you want to say hello?” And the kid said hello and then promptly ran out.
It was just such a real moment. If your leaders are not accustomed to feeling that way or to behaving that way, now is really the time to sit down and tell them, look we have lead with humanity. We have to show that we’re real people.
Alison Davis: Ann, I think that’s such a good point. And there’s certainly a lot of bad news and tough news to communicate, but it’s also important to communicate successes. We all need a little good news. One way to keep the employees at the center is to make sure we’re telling those stories about people doing really special things, helping the customer, and just going above and beyond in any way to make a contribution. I think that’s really important.
How can communicators ensure transparency and support for employees during a crisis?
Alison: Leaders and managers need to step up and be great communicators and remind managers of the role they play. So I think that’s one thought. Ann, you might have another thought as well.
Ann: I think that’s a really good one. And I think another thing is take that beat before you communicate anything because you really run the risk of coming off tone-deaf. I’ll admit, I’ve even done it myself. I’ve even had people on the team be like, “You know what, this is not the time for that piece. Let’s put that aside.”
Alison: And keep an eye on your demographics. I call this the headquarters’ head problem. You begin to think that everyone is having your experience, right? And you have to really think of the person who’s in the factory or in the warehouse or in the truck or in the construction site who has a completely different experience than you do, and often then the senior management team does. So, it’s not only a matter of empathy, it’s also a matter of data.
How can internal communicators take care of themselves in times of crisis?
Ann: I’ve heard a number of times, and it’s really resonated with me, the idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first. We as communicators are at the center of this. I worry a lot about myself, about my team, about all of us, because it is a lot of pressure. There are times when you personally are dealing with your kids or your life or your own anxieties and yet you can’t just shut down because you know your company is counting on you and that’s really hard. It’s a lot of responsibility that we carry.
And I think the most important thing is that we’re taking care of ourselves. Lowering those expectations on ourselves, when we do have time making time, when we do have to say, I can’t right now, to really make sure that we’re doing that and practicing that self-care for ourselves.
What advice would you give comms pros for their strategies and channels?
Alison: It is possible to communicate too much. It probably hasn’t felt like that in the first period of this crisis, but I think that one of the things you can really do is use metrics, use feedback to determine what is the right amount. So, it’s a great time to take a breath and assess what’s the right cadence? What’s the right amount? What’s the right use of channels? All those good things.
The thing about a crisis is it causes disruption and it provides an opportunity to change things. In conversations we’ve been having with clients, we’re saying, “Hey, if you see a need like that, raise it. Maybe you’ve been waiting to get budget for something and you haven’t been able to do so. Now the need has become very acute. The disruption allows you to break down some walls and barriers and limitations that maybe you’ve had and rethink things and say, “Let’s solve that problem now.”
Ann: One of the other things is this concept of know, feel, do. What is it that we want our people to know about this? To feel? And do? If we want our people to feel like the company is being supportive then maybe it is actually relevant to tell them that we’re still paying our staff from the café, even though our café is closed.
And also to look at how are we reaching people. If we’ve been thinking in the back of our mind that we need to up-level things on our internet. Or it’s time for us to get an app or whatever. Now is the time to actually think about those things. A lot of people feel like we can’t possibly do anything new. Or that all of our projects are going to be on hold. This is actually not the time to stop. It’s the time to think about: this is real, this can happen, and is our company prepared to manage this going forward?