How an organization communicates during a crisis can have longlasting implications.

Every organization needs to have a crisis communications team and plan in place. With a good plan and the right team, an organization can take care of its employees as well as help protect its operations and reputation.

Today, we are faced with a global pandemic and organizations are making incredibly difficult decisions on how to respond. This current situation is just one example of an event that requires dedicated preparation. Crisis communications plans should cover other types of issues that can impact business, such as natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, snowstorms, floods, fires and tornadoes).

This means that every organization needs to have a crisis communications team and plan in place and should be prepared to activate it immediately.

The plan should include tailored approaches to address the specific incidents. While there are common steps that businesses can follow when preparing for a natural disaster situation (i.e. having plenty of supplies on hand), there are very different steps required for other incidents.

Here are five things to consider when creating a crisis communications team and plan for your organization.

1. Consider the Representation Needed on the Crisis Communications Team

Emergencies are out-of-the-ordinary situations. Organizations need to be strategic about the team members that will make up this cross-functional group to ensure success.

  • First, consider the departments that need to be represented on your crisis communications team (i.e. IT, operations, marketing, legal, HR). It's important to dedicate at least one individual per department to represent their discipline within the crisis communications team. This ensures that the group has expertise from each discipline to help address key stakeholders and take necessary action based on that incident.

Second, before assigning an individual to the crisis communications team, set clear expectations outlining what the role entails and what their specific responsibilities would be.

Last, it is also critical to have redundancy built into the plan so you have backup resources that can step in, as needed.

2. Prepare Everyone on the Crisis Communications Team

Any crisis communications team needs to be able to work together in high-priority situations quickly and effectively. They need to be agile, make decisions swiftly, problem-solve, collaborate and adapt quickly to get factual and critical information in a timely matter.

Also, determine who is authorized to develop and deploy certain types of communications and what information can be shared. For example, if your business operations are impacted, that information might not be immediately shareable publicly. Or, if it is, the information may only be distributed by certain authorized individuals given the potential impact of such information.

You will also need to have an approved spokesperson who has been through media training to speak to the press on behalf of your organization, if necessary.

3. Prepare Early and Revisit the Plan Often

Some incidents happen without warning causing teams to take a reactive approach. However, many can be managed proactively by preparing for potential issues. It's also important to assess the plan frequently. Don't wait to activate your organization's crisis communications team if you are aware of a potential incident.

4. Develop a Communications Tree for Employees

Depending on the incident, organizations may respond differently.

In some cases, organizations need to establish a way to communicate with employees, if necessary, during an incident. In the case of natural disasters, organizations need to know if an employee is capable of safely traveling to their work location – are roads clear, are conditions safe, etc.

Technology has made connecting with employees much easier (via text, calls, websites, etc.). The downside, though, is that even technology is susceptible to natural disasters.

Organizations must consider how to manage communications when phone systems are down or when employees don't have access to the internet. Having a phone tree available with mobile and home phone numbers for your employees can help serve as a safety net if your network is impacted.

And, outside of a crisis, organizations have an opportunity proactively ask employees to update their phone numbers and emergency contact information to make sure they can be reached when needed.

5. Incorporate Crisis Communications Planning into the Onboarding Process and Team Meetings

The safety and well-being of employees should be ingrained in your organizational culture. For example:

  • Talk about safety and crisis communications during new hire orientation and onboarding
  • Managers should bring up safety and disaster preparedness during team meetings
  • Make trainings available year-round

Part of what makes incidents so stressful is that we don't talk about them until we absolutely have to. Organizations need to be prepared in advance, activate quickly, and communicate regularly with employees, customers, vendors, partners and other key stakeholder groups.

The current landscape has brought the need for crisis communications teams and planning to the forefront. Continue to review and refine plans regularly, even if you only do a 10-minute review once a quarter, it is important to be proactive and prepared.

Learn more:

Protecting your workforce and understanding policies as your organization responds to COVID-19; see available webcasts here.

Get customizable email templates and in-depth information on direct deposit, recent legislation and other valuable topics in the COVID-19 Employee Communications Toolkit.

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