Every organization is vulnerable to a crisis, and most have planned to respond to an incident that involves its own operations – whether it’s an accident involving a worker injury, an environmental incident, or a data breach. An organization can also face a reputational challenge stemming from an employee engaging in fraudulent, or bullying behaviour or breaching corporate codes of conduct.
No matter the reason for the crisis, effective communication during an incident is critical to successful stakeholder relations on both internal and external levels. In the digital age, news spreads incredibly quickly, the need for an effective response must keep pace. Organizations can prepare with actionable policies and crisis communications plans to mitigate and minimize damage while maintaining trust and transparency with stakeholders.
Along with the rise of social media and digital advocacy comes the reality that nothing is off-the-record. Organizations face more reputational vulnerabilities than ever, which reinforces the necessity of an integrated crisis communications plan.
What is an organization to do if it finds itself in a crisis? First, don’t panic! A crisis can be managed through effective communications and with some advance planning.
While the crisis is breaking, it is key for organizations to remain as transparent as possible with all stakeholders while attempting to bridge any information gaps. Although a timely response is one key to maintaining public confidence, it is important to gather as much information and articulate it as clearly as possible. It is also important to identify the organization’s role in rectifying the issue, clearly outlining the course of action to do so. This portrays competence and credibility.
In the maintenance phase, organizations must provide stakeholders with context and background information, while continuously distributing timely and accurate updates. Crisis communications involves a human element, which means the response by stakeholders may shift. Organizations must recognize and acknowledge concerns and emotions of all stakeholders. Clearly defining communications objectives, and taking all feedback into account, are essential steps to mitigating potential issues.
In the resolution phase, take an honest look at the successes and downfalls of the communication process. What worked? What needs improvement? Organizations should adjust their processes accordingly to maintain brand and reputation. Review and reinforce key messages to solidify organizational identity.
In all aspects of crisis communications, it is vital to consider both internal and external stakeholders. For an HR professional, it is important to keep in mind the impact the incident may have on the company’s employees. Employees often experience the crisis in step with the public, and face uncertainty, fear and confusion. Clear internal communication, benefits the organization. Transparent internal communication is important for a comprehensive crisis communications plan to effectively prevent and repair any damage from a crisis incident.
In the case that 100% transparency is not an option due to legal implications or privacy policies, organizations should communicate in as clear terms as possible the actions taken to mend the issue. Consistent communication softens the impact of a crisis even if all information is not immediately available to the public.
If planned appropriately and executed successfully, a crisis communications plan allows the organization to control the message, satisfy the expectation for accountability and transparency of all stakeholders, and ultimately limit or reverse reputational damage.
Do you feel prepared to effectively manage your organization through a crisis incident? Do you have the processes in place to communicate clearly to your stakeholders, including your organization’s own employees? Global Public Affairs can help. Global Public Affairs are a fully-integrated public affairs and strategic communications firm with decades of experience helping our clients manage complex organizational issues in virtually every sector of the economy. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with them if you have any questions or would like to know more.
This blog post is a re-cap from our webinar with Global Public Affairs on March 7, 2018: Corporate Reputational Risk Management: An HR Perspective - watch the recording of the webinar here. Our upcoming webinars are on Learn and Connect – filter the event category to Online Learning to see what’s scheduled and to register.