Although the corona crisis puts organizations around the world to the test, the crisis also provides new valuable insights. A survey conducted by Bepublic Group among over a hundred Belgian companies, all market leaders in the most important sectors of the Belgian economy, shows how companies handle the crisis communication-wise. For example, the survey shows that many companies didn’t have a solid crisis communication plan. The same survey also shows positive effects for many companies; some companies were able to improve the bond with their employees thanks to strong internal communication. We’ve collected the five most important insights organizations can use to better prepare their internal communications for the next crisis or emergency.
A crisis communication plan is the tip of the crisis management iceberg. It is essential in preparation for a crisis; with a reliable, up-to-date crisis communication plan, organizations avoid improvisation and panic. They also prevent errors in their communication. With clear, reliable communication, employees and other stakeholders are quickly informed about a crisis – and that’s information that may be needed to keep employees safe and healthy. Organizations that don’t have their crisis communication in order can unnecessarily endanger their employees.
Having a crisis communication plan for your organization might seem like a no-brainer – of course, you’re prepared for a crisis. Nevertheless, it turned out that 36 percent of the companies surveyed did not have a crisis communication plan; another 1 percent were not sure. When the coronavirus crisis struck, the need for a crisis communication plan immediately became apparent. Due to the lack of a crisis communication plan, 27 percent of the companies had internal discussions about the communication approach; 15 percent of the companies communicated too late about important matters, and 15 percent had an unclear division of tasks. As a result, employees received information too late or, in some organizations, not at all. Although a good crisis communication plan can never prepare an organization for all the different unexpected scenarios that can occur during a crisis, it does contribute to preventing (part of) these problems. Moreover, it is essential to establish a clear division of tasks in advance.
If the only thing you’ve done is develop a crisis communication plan for your organization, unfortunately, you’re not done. Forty-seven percent of the companies with a crisis communication plan had not updated this plan for at least six months. However, it is crucial to update a crisis communication plan regularly. Changes in staff, changed telephone numbers, or new work processes and technologies mean any good communication plan will require constant updates. A check every six months should be a minimum requirement.
In addition, having a crisis communication plan only makes sense if you periodically plan drills with your employees. If you haven’t practiced your plan, there is a good chance that panic will prevail during a crisis. Moreover, by simulating an imaginary crisis, convening the communication team, and executing the plan, it becomes clear which agreements need to be tightened up. The division of tasks can also be adjusted if necessary. After the evaluation of a simulation, new insights can immediately be incorporated into the latest version of the crisis communication plan. Yet, 45% of the companies last rehearsed their crisis scenario with involved employees more than six months ago. For many companies, there is still a lot of progress to be made in this area.
In uncertain times, transparent and clear communication is of the utmost importance. A crisis of this magnitude raises all kinds of questions and uncertainties among employees. Organizations concerned with the well-being of their employees try to answer these questions and doubts before they arise. This anticipatory crisis management shows that an organization sincerely wants the best for its employees, and employees can work at maximum productivity if they are well-informed. Moreover, by providing reliable information at an early stage, employees will feel reassured that, whatever happens, they are in good hands.
Most organizations recognized the seriousness of the situation early on. As many as three-quarters of the companies began with their crisis communication even before any nation-wide measures were taken with regard to the coronavirus. In doing so, these organizations sent out a signal to their employees: they are genuinely concerned about their employees. They want to inform their employees in good time about any changes, even though there may not have been so much going on at the time. Organizations that openly dare to name problems and the possible consequences, and communicate about what they do not (yet) know, strengthen their leadership. This creates trust among employees. At 62 percent of the companies, employees reacted understandingly to the communication.
In these difficult times, strong internal communication proves to be a way to strengthen the relationship with your employees. Employees crave reliable company communication and information in times of crisis. Organizations that communicated quickly, openly, and empathically with their employees succeeded in improving the bond with their employees. A great result worth striving for. After all, this improved relationship not only benefits the employees but even organizations as a whole; employees act as ambassadors for your organization. If their view of your organization is positive, they will be more likely to speak positively about your organization and thus improve your company’s image. Moreover, satisfied employees are more productive and motivated – not a bad thing either.
No less than 58 percent of the companies surveyed indicated that they improved the relation with their employees during the corona crisis by using internal communication in the right way. In uncertain times, it is essential to communicate transparently and clearly with employees. It is crucial in this respect to identify problems and their possible consequences. Openness is the key; withholding information will, in the long run, even lead to a deterioration of the bond with employees; they will no longer have confidence in the reliability of internal communication and the honesty of the organization’s leaders. That is precisely the opposite of what you want to achieve with your communication.
Tightly organized internal communication helps organizations get through the crisis. E.g., with video messages, internal e-mails, and newsletters, organizations keep their employees informed about an organization’s strategy and vision during these uncertain times, and business goals that may need to be adjusted. However, even outside times of crisis, good internal communication remains of value. For example, better-informed employees are often more involved in their organization and are also more productive in their work.
Many organizations use internal communication more intensively during the crisis. As a result, they are now getting the hang of it. 35 percent of the organizations surveyed indicated that they would continue to focus more on internal communication even after the corona crisis, while 58 percent would like to keep the amount of internal communication at least the same level. Only 3 percent intend to reduce their internal communication again after the crisis.
Internal communication can have major positive effects on an organization during a crisis. However, if internal communication is used too late or poorly, companies can also experience immediate negative effects. A clear, structured crisis communication plan, which is updated and practiced at least every six months with all persons involved, is a good start. Different communication channels also provide the opportunity to reach all employees quickly and efficiently wherever they are.
Was your organization prepared for the unexpected situations that this crisis has brought with it, or could you use some help in developing a plan for your organization? Feel free to contact us to discuss any issues you’re running into, or download our free infographic with 7 tips to create an effective emergency communication plan.