In Crisis Communications, Don’t Forget Your Employees

By: Kathleen McCool

In health care, emergency situations are inevitable. Organizations like ours spend a lot of time planning for what to do and say in times of crisis, but one important audience for such messages is too-often overlooked: our own employees.

Thanks to the prevalence of social media, every colleague is now a potential public spokesperson for your organization. A tweet, photo or live-stream is likely to end up on cable news long before your designated chief spokesperson. And it’s likely to carry an air of authority that your top executive doesn’t, as the public is inclined to trust the unfiltered perspective of a so-called insider as much or more than a suit and an impressive title. (Thanks BP!)

So what can be done? Do you confiscate cell phones? Advocate for universal non-disclosure agreements? No. Just make sure you’re including internal communications in your planning process. If your organization’s communications team drills for crisis scenarios – and they should! – make sure employee communications is part of that process so that internal messaging doesn’t fall through the cracks. Identify key internal stakeholders and communications channels to get messages quickly and effectively to the front lines and make sure those stakeholders know what is expected of them.

Build trust with your internal audience just as you would with your external stakeholders. That means being honest and transparent. If you’ve promised to follow up, then do so. Thanking, expressing concern for, or otherwise publicly acknowledging the team members handling the crisis at hand is a no-brainer and a good way to build credibility.

Make sure internal messages are consistent with external messages. It doesn’t mean they are duplicative; your internal audience will often need special instructions or details pertinent to them during times of emergency, even if that’s as simple as parking, traffic, or work schedule information. At the same time, never tell your employees something you wouldn’t tell the public – consider every internal-facing message part of the external plan. (Sometimes, as in the case with most “leaked” CEO internal memos, they are the most important part of the public strategy.)

Like it or not, modern technology has democratized public communications and turned every colleague into an organizational representative. When an emergency arises, your employees will speak. The only way to influence what they say is to engage them early and often in the conversation.

Click here for example internal message templates.

Want to learn more about crisis comms?

Join us for a special PAMN pre-conference workshop that will focus on helping you and your team prepare for an emergency.

Crisis Communications: Planning for the Unimaginable

Date: Monday, April 8

Time: 1-3:30 p.m. (CT)

Register for the conference and workshop.


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