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Internal communications during times of crisis

All organisations face times of crisis. But while many organisations are able to resolve their issues without attracting too much attention, local government can often find its challenges making the headlines.

 In the rush to deal with the crisis and the impact on external audiences, internal communications can sometimes be forgotten. However, with the right approach, effective internal communication can be one of the most effective ways of ensuring that your crisis does not get any worse.

Our top tips

Plan and practice

You do not want to be developing a crisis communication strategy while you are in middle of an emergency so invest some time in developing a plan beforehand. All organisations should have a major incident plan outlining what will happen in the event of a crisis, so review it to make sure that communications is included and that the processes for internal communication are specifically outlined. If it doesn’t, talk to your senior teams about the need to factor it in. Once you have a plan in place, identify opportunities to rehearse and practice it so that if the worst should happen, everyone knows what to do.

Get your immediate response right

The moment immediately following a crisis can often be a blurred by confusion or an absence of information. There will be pressure to answer an enormous number of different questions but it is important to start by establishing the facts you do know and share a holding statement with staff that outlines what you know and explains when you expect to be able to update further. This will help you to restore some calm and manage expectations about when and how information will be communicated to your workforce.

Keep staff informed first

Wherever possible it’s important to make sure you communicate with staff before releasing information to the media and wider stakeholders. It is likely that you will need your employees’ support and involvement to fix the challenges you are experiencing so it is important that they are first to know of any new developments. If staff find out updates through media or social channels it can damage the trust they have in the organisation and may limit the extent to which they are willing to support the organisation to overcome the crisis.

Remind people of your policies

When an unexpected situation occurs people can sometimes forget to follow the normal rules of the organisation. When updating staff on the latest news remember to remind people of your social media policies so that employees don’t accidentally comment on issues that they shouldn’t.

Coordinate your messages

Try to ensure that any crisis communication messages that are released across the organisation are delivered in a coordinated fashion. It is important to avoid situations where some parts of the council have more up-to-date information than others. Consider developing an hourly bulletin where the latest information will be released to everyone rather than devolving different messages to different parts of the organisation.

Keep employees updated

As situations change and develop it is important that employees are kept informed of the latest information. A lack of information during times of crisis can be particularly unnerving for staff who may fill in the communication gap with their own speculation and rumour. Clearly outline the details of the times that you will be releasing information and commit to that, even if there are no new details to add. Informing staff that the situation has not changed is just as critical as telling them when things have altered significantly. Publicising the times that you will be updating staff also helps to manage expectations and ensure that the organisation can focus on fixing the problems without getting side tracked by a deluge of questions or requests for information.

Publicise your channels

It is important that your employees know where to find the latest information during time of crisis. This may be through your intranet, manager briefings or perhaps through text alerts. It doesn’t matter which channel you use, the important thing is that your employees know where to get updates from. Make sure line managers are also aware so that they can support their staff throughout the process.

Make use of your leaders

While it is likely that your chief executive and leader will be balancing a number of competing demands during a crisis, it is important that employees see senior faces to reassure them during times of uncertainty. In your planning stages, outline the individuals who will have overall responsibility for employee communication during major incidents and ensure that they are of suitably senior level to offer a reassuring presence to your teams. As well as updating employees on the latest developments, encourage your leaders to thank staff for their patience and contribution to fixing the problems facing the organisation. It is likely that teams across the council will be involved in putting things right so it is important to acknowledge that critical role.

Respond to the ‘new normal’

When a crisis is over there will be a lot to reflect on but it is important to communicate those reflections, changes or outcomes to staff. In extreme cases, the way the organisation operates may have to change as a result of a crisis, so it is important that those messages are communicated clearly, promptly and sensitively to your employees. Where possible, provide staff with a clear outline of when further information will be available in the days and weeks following a major incident and do not forget to provide facilities for your employees to share their feedback on how effective your communications were during the crisis. Their input may help you avoid problems in the future.