Even when times are good, companies often pour money and energy into communicating with customers before their own employees. This is one of the best ways to erode credibility and trust among your workforce. Employees are companies’ best advocates and can help navigate storms when armed with timely and accurate information. Failing to have an internal communications plan for discussing could inflict brand damage. Ensure employees are one of your top priorities during these times by considering the following:
Keep employees in the loop. Employees need to hear from their leaders first about the company before reading or hearing about it from outside sources. When employees don’t have access to the facts, they sometimes fill in the blanks with rumors and misinformation. A dedicated internal site on the company intranet could serve as the “hub” for leaders and employees with information available by role or team. Use this as an opportunity to post background information, fact sheets, talking points, FAQs and videos. Be transparent and make sure employees know their roles (if any) in this crisis. Ensure any employees handling calls or customer comments on the web and social media have talking points to help them communicate sensitively. They also should have access to necessary tools and resources such as policies, procedures and even company values.
Identify your employees’ chief concerns. Develop information to explain the reasons for changes and how employees are affected. Employees need to know and understand what actions the company is taking, how their jobs might be impacted and what their role(s) might be as the situation progresses. Educate employees on proper customer service policies and organizational values. List any tough conversations and tough questions you anticipate. Be available so employees can share their concerns and problems they encounter during changes.
Show your human side to employees. Leaders at all levels need to get out from behind company emails and be virtually visible and listen. Employees need to feel a connection to their companies and trust that the corporate moral compass will ultimately prevail. Virtual meeting tools can help leaders connect with employees through open and honest discussions. Leaders need to listen to employees’ questions and concerns and share what they are hearing with the crisis team. Refresh communications based on those questions and concerns.
Look for inspiration. People are under stress. To alleviate this, share stories about how employees are helping others and themselves during this time. You even can tap employees to share their own stories about what they are doing for fun and to keep from going stir crazy if they are working from home. Send messages of support and encouragement to your team. And when your employees themselves have taken inspirational steps to help their communities at a time such as this, share those stories not only with the rest of the company but also with your customers.
Keith and Loren Yaskin run The Flip Side Communications LLC, a Scottsdale media company that helps companies tell their stories through video production, public relations, media training and employee communications.