You’ve heard HR leaders and executives say it many times, “Our employees are our number one asset.” If this is true, should those same employees also become your most important audience when a crisis strikes?
An increasing number of HR departments are taking the lead in crisis communications planning to make sure employee engagement is maintained in crisis communications plans.
Public relations teams traditionally wrote and executed a corporate crisis communication plan. In most plans, communications were targeted toward the media.
But the time has come for human resource professionals to forge a stronger partnership with each public relations team. Corporate crisis communications plans must ensure proper and equal communications to the media, employees and social media audiences.
Here are three considerations:
Consideration #1: Employees use social media apps on their personal smart phones. This means they can quickly disseminate facts or rumors about your company’s crisis.
Consideration #2: Haters love to spread rumors on social media, which if read by your employees, can cause employees to doubt whether the corporation is communicating the truth to them.
Consideration #3: With each minute that you fail to communicate to your employees and the outside world, your corporate reputation and revenue are being damaged.
Years ago the media were the most important audience in a crisis communications plan. They were the pathway to get your message to the masses, including your employees. But that has changed, beginning with the advent of e-mail, the web and Intranet sites. Each created a direct pathway for effective employee communications. HR and PR were able to share the responsibility for daily employee engagement.
These same tools should be your primary crisis communications tool.
HR and PR should want employees to get their news, especially about a crisis, from the company, rather than the mainstream media or social media.
Sadly, the norm seems to be that corporate executives make the mistake of thinking that when a crisis strikes they can gather critical executives in a room and hash out a strategy and write a statement. This doesn’t work and it is a recipe for disaster. When time is of the essence there is no time for impending disagreements, personality conflicts, and fights over commas and semantics in news releases. But that is exactly what happens when executives are arrogant enough to think they can “wing it” on the day of their crisis.
It is far wiser to spend a few dollars to prepare, than to watch large sums of money disappear because of falling stock prices and dropping sales, precipitated by a void in timely communications during a crisis.
While your company likely cannot communicate at the speed of Twitter, a reasonable goal is to issue your first statement to the media, employees and other stakeholders within one hour of any crisis going public.
What should you do if you are in HR?
1) Meet with your public relations team and make sure the company has written a crisis communications plan.
2) If there is no plan, partner with PR to write a plan that provides specific steps to communicate with the media, employees and key stakeholders.
3) Ensure that your plan is built for speed, by writing a library of pre-written news releases, constructed with a fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice format, in order to speed up your communications.
4) Establish a policy that states your employees and the media will get identical information at the same time. Never give employees information that is not provided to the media. Also, never give employees any information before giving it to the media.
Posting your official statement on your corporate website lets you provide links by e-mail to all employees and media with the click of a button. The same link can be posted to social media.
5) To perform flawlessly during your crisis you must practice when there is no crisis. Test your crisis communications plan at least once a year with a crisis communications drill.
Surprisingly, many companies do not see a need for a crisis communications plan until it is too late. Of the companies wise enough to have plans, many have failed to update their plans to emphasize the speed, urgency, and importance of communicating with employees.
If your employees are your greatest priority, you should provide them timely and honest information when a crisis strikes.