If we have learned anything from 2020 so far, it’s that uncertainty is inevitable. A major pandemic, massive job losses, widespread global protests …
If there’s a lesson to take to heart from this year from a corporate level, it’s the importance of effective internal communication to mitigate these upheavals.
Companies who have been able to adapt and communicate their plans effectively have been able to move forward in trying times. But that’s not enough, internal communications need to be consistently streamlined and optimized information gets to the appropriate parties as efficiently as possible.
It’s never too late (or early) to look at ways you can improve internal communication in your organization. Here’s what to keep in mind for when a crisis strikes …
When (not if) a situation arises, be it global, national, or at a community-level, the first step should always be to remain calm. In calmer times, set out an emergency plan or protocol to follow, and stick to it. The last thing anyone needs is a leadership team running in different directions. A united front is key.
While we’re on that topic, don’t make executive decisions behind closed doors and then simply inform the internal communicator. Give internal comms a seat at the table from the start. Besides valuable insight into employees’ views, they will also be able to identify obstacles to effective communication from the start.
“Organizations need to provide frequent, timely, transparent communications during uncertain times. Moving quickly allows organizations to control the narrative based on the information available and to set expectations of what follows next. Cascading communications through leaders provides clarity in messaging and creates a sense of stability for employees in otherwise uncertain times.” – Jessica Adams, head of people, Brad’s Deals
Consistent communication is key to building trust and maintaining calm. Often in times of crisis, the first instinct is to jump onto communications and send updates. Slowly as time moves on these communications become less regular and less urgent. Unless the situation has completely been resolved, don’t take your foot off the gas. Allow flexibility as the situation and narrative changes, but disappearing from public view will only set your efforts back.
“Organizations need to provide frequent, timely, transparent communications during uncertain times. Moving quickly allows organizations to control the narrative based on the information available and to set expectations of what follows next. Cascading communications through leaders provides clarity in messaging and creates a sense of stability for employees in otherwise uncertain times.” – Suzanne Hyatt, chief human resources officer, OANDA
Extra resource: Internal communication plan template
A natural reaction when trying to restore calm is to underplay an issue. Why scare people, right? Wrong. With social media, news and updates go live by the second, employees are going to find out what’s going on, regardless. Be as honest and open as possible. Lay all the cards on the table and explain the situation, solutions, and directions clearly. If you don’t know something – say it. Honesty leads to trust, and trust is imperative when uncertainty strikes.
“Employees want to know that they matter. Be transparent with your concerns, your business plans, and your vision for the future. The team will be searching for cues about what is happening – silence can be deafening.” – Carol MacKinlay, chief people officer, UserTesting
Have you talked to your audience yet? Are you listening to the concerns and questions of employees to whom you are directing all these efforts? If not, it’s time to revise your strategy. Your efforts may be seen as a PR stunt and you may be inadvertently be fanning the flames to the fire if you’re not answering the questions staff want to know.
Communication is a two-way street. Ask questions, use pulse surveys, and engage people. And more than anything else, always lead with empathy.
“In addition to providing regular updates, make sure there is a clear place for employees to go with whatever questions they have, whether that’s an open Slack channel and/or an anonymous link that’s used to maintain a Q&A blog accessible to all employees. Frequently reiterate and demonstrate leaders’ accessibility for all questions (as well as ideas and feedback).” – Linsday Putzer, VP of people and culture, Curology
No man (or woman) is an island, and with the right tech, you can elevate your efforts to be more effective and easier to manage. While the going is good, invest in an ecosystem to support internal comms. That way the whole organization can fall into habits around how and when to expect information.
An intranet is a great place to start. It houses all organizational documents and policies and is the perfect anchor for important news and updates. It’s the one place where all information is housed so that employees know exactly where to go for anything and everything they need to know. Here are some benefits of using an intranet in a crisis.
The second step is to look at an active outreach tool. Where the intranet holds all the info, you need a way to alert staff of updates. Reach internal communication software is a groundbreaking tool that integrates with existing channels, including MS Teams, Slack, SMS, and email. This means there’s no need to download apps, employees simply open each alert (and you get to track how and when this happens!)
“In these uncertain times, technology has proven to be a source of grounding and connection for our company … The use of these tools has brought continued alignment when, for many of us, the transition to remote work could have been much more difficult.” – Dana Garaventa, director of human resources, Opus One Winery
Note: The quotes used above are from the Forbes Human Resources Council.