By Pam Jackson, PhD
Crisis management and communication is the art of dealing with, and communicating about, sudden and unexpected events which disturbs the employees, organization as well as external clients. Proactive crisis management prepares individuals to face unexpected developments and adverse conditions in the organization with courage and determination. Reactive crisis management tends to waste resources, destroy morale and risk the reputation of the enterprise.
In today’s COVID environment; the crisis, which started as sudden and unexpected, has become sustained, prolonged, and stressful. Management and communication systems breakdown more easily in the face of constant, sustained pressure, and scarcity or total lack of employee engagement and interaction. When management decisions are sound, reasonable and clear communication happens, employees (and even clients) adjust well to the sudden changes. When management decisions are hasty and poorly thought out, often because of a panicked-state, employees do not adjust, and clients are not well served.
The key issue that most organizations miss is that it matters to make the investment of time, to think and plan. Rather, firms choose to “make do” or “get by” or “survive” as a matter of practice in the face of crisis. Those that took the time to stop, plan, and pivot were well positioned to endure the most unexpected length of time the COVID threat and related social distancing practices that exist. The time cost is much lower than most realize for the preparation or ordered response to a crisis. When prepared, employees can understand and analyze the causes of crisis and cope with it in the best possible way; and managers can devise strategies to come out of uncertain conditions and also decide on the future course of action. Training and preparation in advance assist managers in noticing the early signs of crisis, warn the employees against the aftermaths and take necessary precautions for the same. Training and preparation during crises is usually impossible because most crises are short-lived and intense. Instead, unusually so, this crisis has been sustained and devastating to families who have lost loved ones and to the economy.
- Take the time to gain the knowledge to structure your communication systems and content. Create a team responsible for understanding what needs to be said and to whom throughout the situation. Have them ensure the focus stays on the mission and vision of the company rather than the temporary, perhaps frightening circumstances.
- Identify the front-liners in your organisation, the people on the team responsible for the best interests of employees and client service. Educate and empower them with clear goals and objectives. These goals may be short-term and changing week-by-week. No worries.
- Build great company culture so that loyalty and resiliency influence client and employee retention and response. Being adaptable and flexible matter in times of crisis.
- Get trained on clarifying diﬀerent levels of messaging to send out over a variety of channels, for the duration of a crisis, as well as an understanding of how to do a post-crisis review. What communication is needed to reduce or restore reputational damage? When is it needed? To whom is it directed?