So much pressure is put onto public appearance and response during a crisis, that some companies speed right past informing their employees on what is happening before their statement blindly appears on CNN. As the head of social media, I have found out crucial news via a statement my company sent out by wondering why someone is tweeting the brand page about it >> UM. HELLO. That puts me in a position of distrust as an employee because I now feel a distance between my company and what it’s telling the outside world, AND it seriously messes with reactive PR because I have not been read in on the situation and have no idea what the company’s response and talking points are. TELL YOUR EMPLOYEES before telling anyone outside of the company. This is a rule I use when consulting with clients, no matter what the crisis is and no matter who the client is. When you give your employees the respect of letting them know what is happening before they read it in a news headline, you’re able to provide them with the right tools to fight for you out in public. When you disrespect them and let them find out via third-party sources, they are more likely to disconnect from you and feel less of a need to defend the company.
A video directly from the CEO is usually preferred, emailed to each employee with the company’s domain so they have the inability to forward it on and betray your own trust. If that’s not possible, it’s still best to flag an email as “important” and share the statement. If you’re a small company, pick up the damn phone and speak with your employees 1:1.
The statement is not the only thing you need to arm employees with. You should be transparent with where you plan on sharing the statement and provide employees with a general FAQ guide focused around the crisis. What do they say if a family member asks them something? What should they do if a reporter tweets them for their opinion on a crisis? What are some good general statements they can share?
And if you think you are done there, think again. The #1 thing employees will want to know is, how are you going to protect and empower them as employees during this crisis? Share all benefits available to them, even re-sharing basic benefits like vacation days, personal days, flex-schedule, health insurance, etc. BE HONEST about potential layoffs. If you think there could be lay offs in the future, don’t say “No layoffs”. It’s better to say something like, “It’s unclear right now how this will directly impact different roles within the company”. It’s quite common for roles to expand into “T-shaped” positions during crisis where everyone needs to help with everything. Note this, stating how much you value your employees and there might be moments during the upcoming months where they need to perform tasks outside of their role. Spend some time with the VP of HR and figure out if there are any additional benefits you can provide to make your employees feel more secure. I’ve seen companies where a new “flex-schedule” is introduced and it made employees work even harder for the company while feeling secure that they could leave to take care of what they need to during the day.
YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE YOUR COMPANY. It really is that black and white. Sometimes it’s easy to want to go protect your company’s reputation right away and deal with employee fallout later, but if you let your employees in on what is going on right from the start, they will protect your reputation with you more than you ever could have by going to CNN first.
– Marji J. Sherman