February 12, 2016 By Barbara Leary, Managing Director
When companies make the news in ways that threaten their reputation, they typically focus their response on the media, customers, policymakers and shareholders, but they often forget an audience that’s just as essential—their employees. In full crisis mode, when every step is triaged, it’s tempting to overlook the need for internal communication. But even the most loyal employees in the healthiest of workplaces need and deserve tailored communication in a crisis.
Seeing their employer under attack is distressing for employees, and focus and productivity can suffer as a result. Whether or not they believe the negative headlines, employees will wonder what’s really going on. If they’re not hearing from the company’s leaders, or if the communication they’re receiving isn’t credible, sooner or later they will believe the headlines. If employee morale declines steeply, firms risk more than a fall-off in productivity. They will lose talent and gain detractors. Then the barbarians won’t just be at the gate—they’ll be inside, and more likely to spread the negativity in conversations with colleagues, or, worse, on social media.
The basics of good crisis communication apply: communicating with transparency, owning up to any mistakes the company has made, showing empathy, and explaining what the company is doing to understand what went wrong, make it right, and prevent missteps.
If your company’s reputation is at risk, it’s not enough to tell your side of the story. You must equip your employees to respond to questions from their friends and family and encourage a two-way dialogue. Provide them with key messages, Q&As, and content they can share on social media, and make sure to reinforce communication and social media guidelines to prevent well-intentioned missteps. If you’re in a business that deals with frequent crises or is engaged in a prolonged public debate, consider developing a network of employee ambassadors who are trained to carry your message proactively to community groups and who could be pressed into service if the need arises.
The way you engage with your employees in a crisis can do long-term damage to their trust in your company or deepen their faith and loyalty. By auditing your crisis plans now, before you need to activate them, you can make sure you’re ready to do what it takes to cultivate strong allies from the inside. Contact us if we can help.