Crisis management is currently a hot topic in many companies due to the effects of the coronavirus. If managers take the wrong or no measures to limit the damage, the consequences can be devastating for the entire company. An essential part of crisis management is crisis communication. Crises create an increased need for information among employees, and if this need is not met by superiors, rumors and misinformation can spread and cause fear. If well-structured crisis communication strategies are in place before a crisis begins, threatening situations can be better managed, and opportunities can also arise during the crisis. In this case, the motto is: silence is silver, talk is gold.
Why is crisis communication so important?
A company crisis is a threat to the existence of the organization, which can be caused by external influences such as the corona crisis or from within the company. The important goals of the organization cannot be achieved by this, and the existence of the company is threatened. Triggers can be natural events or technical or human failure, for example. In principle, crises are triggered by the events themselves. Still, the way in which they are communicated and managed can determine whether an organization breaks down as a result of a crisis or emerges from it stronger.
If employees notice that the company is in difficulties and do not receive any detailed information about the causes and consequences, this can have a counterproductive effect on crisis management. Instead of concentrating on their work, employees tend to spend their time listening to rumors or making preparations in case of imminent dismissal. Crisis communication describes the exchange of information and procedures regarding a crisis between managers and employees to build trust and credibility and limit the damage.
Crisis communication plan
As a matter of principle, crisis communication must always take into account who the target group is. If possible, this analysis should be done preventively so that the group can then be reached via the communication medium, understand the message correctly, and be able to react to it appropriately. A distinction is made between internal target groups, i.e., employees within the company, external target groups such as customers or shareholders, and individual participants in crisis management.
According to the "Guidelines for Crisis Communication" of the BMI (Federal Ministry of the Interior), a well-thought-out crisis communication plan should consist of three components, which are explained in more detail here.
1. Basics of crisis management
This part of the plan defines specific structures, processes, and roles of the company that is relevant for crisis communication. Technical-organizational measures that ensure the structure of the crisis organization should be described here. The structure of the press and public relations work is also essential to nip rumors in the bud and maintain a consistent image. That also includes the procedures for the exchange of information. If these basic principles of crisis management are established before a crisis occurs, the individual steps can be implemented smoothly and safely in an emergency.
2. Public relations regulations
To be able to maintain a consistent picture even in crises, the structure of public relations work should be adapted to the strategies of the standard case. To this end, it should be clear at all times who is on the crisis team and what role is being played. A crisis team already exists before the crisis and determines which employees and managers will take on which tasks in the event of a crisis. These may include analyzing the current situation, delegating the exchange of information, or drawing up a plan of action to manage the emergency. A spokesperson is also appointed to regulate communication with the public and ensure that uniform information is passed on.
3. Content and strategy
The collection and processing of information on possible crisis scenarios should be carried out as a preventive measure, so that action can be taken quickly if a crisis occurs and not unnecessarily much time and energy is spent on planning and information gathering. It is important to draw up specific plans for the various target groups and to adapt content and strategies to them. In the event of a crisis, it should already be clear via which social media channels which information will be disseminated and which member of the crisis team will take on this task.
Do`s and Dont's of crisis communication
In the recently published white paper on "Crisis Management: Communication and Leadership" , published by zweikern, the Dos and Dont's of crisis communication are explained in addition to the characteristics of a crisis and the navigation of leadership in it. Three of these rules of conduct and advice on how to deal successfully with threatening situations are summarised here.
Paying attention to timing
When communicating a crisis, the hierarchical levels of the company should be taken into account in order to avoid any uncertainties. It should, therefore, be clear at all times who receives what information and when, from the level of the executives, through the level of the managers, to the employees. Timing is everything.
Choosing a communication channel
Just as important as the levels of crisis communication is the choice of communication channels. Especially for home office employees, the exchange of information can quickly become confusing if it is no longer clear who said what to whom exactly. Among other things, e-mail, messengers such as Slack or video conferencing via e.g., Webex are available. Each of these channels has certain advantages and disadvantages, which are evaluated by the crisis management team and adapted to the respective circumstances.
Transparency and openness are essential cornerstones for successful crisis management. It is up to the crisis management team to determine who should receive what information to ensure that the necessary work and system processes are maintained. The situation should first be communicated internally before the information is passed on to the outside. A catalog of questions could prove to be a useful tool to provide employees with something tangible to help them orient themselves.
Conclusion on crisis communication
Corporate crises can quickly become a test of all those involved. This is why prevention and anticipation instead of intervention is called for, because to slide into a crisis without any plan can mean the end of an organization. If a crisis team is selected in advance and a structured plan for crisis communication and management is drawn up, this could ensure the survival of a company. If these plans are continuously revised and adapted to current issues and risk areas, the company can act as one unit and strengthen cohesion in the long term, even after a return to normal.
Only those who think around the corner can communicate straight ahead.
by Tobias Bremshey, Sales Manager ppdigital
Leitfaden Krisenkommunikation - Bundesministerium des Inneren (2014)