Crisis can be triggered by various factors within a company, and the difficulty lies in the fact that it's nearly impossible to prepare for it in advance. However, what can and must be planned is how to handle and transmit information within the organization (and externally) during such situations, which is known as crisis communication.
Every business faces daily challenges and problems, most of which can be prepared for, and their management typically doesn't pose a problem. However, a more serious, severe crisis can create a chaotic situation that endangers the operation of the company. Many companies experienced this firsthand during the pandemic. Suddenly, our established routines were disrupted overnight, and we had to quickly figure out what to do, how to address the situation, and, most importantly, what to say to the employees and how to respond to their questions.
The essence of crisis communication is to continuously and consistently inform stakeholders during the time between the onset of an unexpected critical situation and the mitigation of damages or the prevention of a specific danger. We must develop appropriate messages, convey them to the stakeholders, facilitate effective cooperation, and do everything in our power to prevent chaos and panic from taking over.
We all know the game where we try to relay a brief message through just 4-5 people. The story changes a little with each person, and by the time it reaches the last person, it's almost unrecognizable from the original information. While this game can be entertaining, it demonstrates how easy it is to misinform, even with the best intentions. This is one of the most critical reasons why, when sharing important, complex information, the "tell them and have them pass it on" type of information flow is bound to fail.
Even for medium-sized or multi-location companies, it's a real challenge to determine how to inform employees during a crisis. It doesn't matter what we have to say if we don't know how to reach everyone. (The example mentioned above is definitely not an option!) To transmit information, we need our own stable, reliable, accessible, and secure system.
Bad news, especially in the digital age, spreads rapidly, and its effects are unpredictable. Based on bad news, people tend to imagine even worse scenarios, panic can set in, and instead of constructive solutions, excessive emotional reactions may arise.
One of the cardinal rules of crisis communication is not to delay because speculations, growing concerns, waiting for information, and the lack of information can further worsen the situation. The sooner we inform employees about the facts, planned steps, and solutions, the better. In addition to quick response, frequency and updates are also important. The whole process cannot be handled with just one communication. Regularly inform employees about the current status of the crisis and, especially, the solutions.
It's said that trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. Trust among the members of an organization becomes even more crucial during a crisis. Without strong and mutual trust, virtually all crisis management strategies and communication efforts will be in vain.
During a crisis, employees may feel uncertain and vulnerable. However, consistent, open, and honest communication supports the team in understanding the situation more objectively. It provides emotional reassurance, conveys trust and calmness from the leadership, and plays a vital role in managing the crisis.
To ensure successful crisis management, objective planning is essential, but empathy is equally important in the process. A crisis can result in significant losses for a company. In severe cases, as we have seen in numerous instances, especially during the pandemic, people can lose their jobs and livelihoods overnight. This is likely the primary concern of every employee when a crisis situation arises in their workplace. A loss of a sense of security can disrupt anyone's normal routine.
Empathy is needed to understand the worries and uncertainties of employees and to provide them with the information, support, and guidance they need. In crisis communication, empathy should always be the guiding principle.
When planning a crisis communication strategy, you must consider multiple channels of information flow. You communicate about the crisis and its effects, consequences, with employees, partners, customers, the press, and on social media, among others. Legal considerations are also relevant, but consistency is the key.
In a crisis situation (and beyond), share accurate, credible, and relevant information on all channels. You don't need to inundate everyone with every piece of information (there may be legal or business reasons not to): you can selectively target specific groups of employees/partners/customers for specific topics. However, consistent information management is fundamental in crisis communication to avoid misunderstandings, panic, and the need for later explanations.
Every crisis comes to an end one way or another, and crisis management can be either successful or unsuccessful despite all efforts. The success of crisis communication doesn't necessarily depend on the success of crisis management. It's possible to handle a corporate crisis successfully while communication fails, and vice versa.
Since the root causes are always analyzed after a crisis, evaluating the crisis management process, results, and crisis communication is beneficial. If an employer consistently, promptly, and empathetically informs employees through appropriate channels, it will also set the tone for the post-crisis period. This is not to mention the possibility of another crisis emerging.
Resolving a crisis is unique and cannot be entirely foreseen, but a crisis communication strategy can be developed. Moreover, it can significantly mitigate damages. Uncertainty, desperation, internal conflicts, misinformation, and damage to corporate reputation are just a few of the many disadvantages and further dangers that a crisis can generate within an organization. However, with a well-structured, well-functioning crisis communication plan, it is possible to prevent the escalation of an already critical situation.