The Crucial Role of Internal Communications in Crisis Preparedness

Why your first communication during a crisis should be an internal one.

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Dear reader,

OK, this is a long edition of the Wag The Dog Newsletter, but one I feel very passionate about. The role of internal communication in crisis preparedness.

You wouldn't believe how many crisis communication plans I have seen in my career that do not even mention internal communications. It is truly astonishing and concerning to witness the lack of emphasis placed on this crucial aspect of crisis management.

An article by the always-excellent Paul Holmes (referenced below) triggered this edition, and I hope you’ll like my thoughts on the topic. Well, even if you don’t agree, let me know, and let’s have a chat. πŸ˜…

Enjoy!

PS: Do not miss the webinar about AI and Crisis Simulations next week. You can still register here.

Table of Contents

The crucial role of internal communication

When a company experiences a crisis, the effectiveness of the response can make or break stakeholder trust and the company's reputation.

At the heart of an organisation's crisis resilience is a factor that is often overlooked: strong internal communication.

In a crisis, a well-informed, engaged workforce that embodies the organisation's core values is invaluable. Open and transparent communication with employees is critical to maintaining trust, ensuring a consistent message and guiding the entire organisation through turbulent times in line with its principles.

Embedding values through communication

An organisation's values should not just be on a sign or a website, but woven deep into the company culture through continuous communication and reinforcement. By putting company values at the centre, internal communication empowers employees to make value-based decisions, especially under crisis pressure.

Fictional example: a global food manufacturer

At a global food manufacturer that prides itself on the core value of "putting consumer health and safety first"," this principle is reinforced through frequent communications such as dedicated newsletters, annual training, and messages to managers with real-life examples.

When the company was faced with a product recall due to possible contamination, this ongoing value-oriented communication ensured a swift response from the entire workforce focused on consumer safety.

Promoting a resilient culture

In addition to disseminating information, internal communication plays an important role in building a corporate culture that promotes crisis resilience. By encouraging open dialogue and feedback loops, companies can create a sense of trust and transparency that allows potential problems to be identified before they escalate into a full-blown crisis.

Fictional example: a leading cybersecurity company

At a leading cybersecurity company, any employee can confidentially raise concerns or report potential issues via a dedicated "Voice of the Employee" platform. This open and transparent communication culture enabled an entry-level engineer to report a vulnerability in one of the company's products. By responding quickly to this feedback, a major data breach was prevented before it could escalate into a crisis.

Preparing employees for crises

Effective crisis preparedness is not just about having documented response plans; it is also about equipping employees with the knowledge and mindset to implement these plans decisively. Internal communication is central to this mental preparation.

Fictitious example: a large technology company

A large technology company regularly conducts crisis simulation exercises with cross-functional teams. These simulations not only cover practical aspects of responding to an incident, but also emphasise ethical decisions based on the company values of "responsible innovation" and "protecting user trust"."

Employees navigate through different scenarios, making decisions that are in line with these principles, to prepare them to instinctively represent the company's values in an actual crisis.

Introducing Values-based decision making (VBDM)

A powerful framework that illustrates the role of internal communications in crisis preparation is values-based decision making (VBDM). This strategic approach uses an organisation's core values as the primary guide for decision-making, especially in times of crisis.

VBDM places an organisation's core values at the heart of crisis response strategies and ensures that decisions adhere to ethical principles and public commitments.

In the context of crisis communication and crisis preparedness, VBDM ensures that an organisation's response is not only strategic and effective, but also consistent with its ethical standards and public commitments.

Principles of values-based decision making

VBDM is based on several fundamental principles:

  • Integrity: Ensure that actions taken in a crisis are consistent with the values and ethics of the organisation.

  • Transparency: openness and honesty in all communications related to the crisis.

  • Accountability: taking responsibility for the organisation's role in the crisis and for all steps taken to resolve the crisis.

  • Stakeholder focus: considering the impact of decisions on all stakeholders, including employees, customers, partners, and the wider public.

Application in crisis communication

In crisis communication, VBDM manifests itself through:

  • Immediate acknowledgement: quick acknowledgement of the crisis in a way that reflects the organisation's commitment to transparency and accountability.

  • Consistent messaging: Ensure that all communications are consistent with the organisation's values. For example, if an organisation prioritises the safety of its customers above all else, its messages should prioritise information on how customers can protect themselves.

  • Engagement and dialogue: Engage with stakeholders in a way that reflects the company's values, such as empathy and a willingness to listen to concerns.

Application in crisis preparation

For crisis preparation, VBDM includes:

  • Values integration into crisis plans: The organisation's values are integrated into crisis management plans to ensure that response strategies are designed to maintain those values under pressure.

  • Training and simulations: Conduct training and simulations that not only prepare employees for the practical aspects of crisis response, but also emphasise decision making based on the organisation's values.

  • Stakeholder analysis: Regularly assess stakeholder needs and expectations to ensure that the organisation's values are aligned with these expectations to build trust and support during a crisis.

Decision tree example: Response to environmental crises

Start: Environmental crisis identified

  1. Immediate assessment

  • If the spill poses an immediate threat to public health or safety,

  • Then take emergency action to protect the community and the environment.

  • Otherwise, proceed to the detailed assessment.

2. Detailed assessment

  • If the impact of the accident is localised and limited,

  • Then initiate targeted clean-up measures immediately.

  • Otherwise, if the effects of the accident are widespread,

  • Then mobilise additional resources for a comprehensive response.

3. Communication strategy

  • If the full extent of the impact is known,

  • Then communicate transparently with the public, stakeholders, and authorities about the spill, its impact and the response measures taken.

  • Otherwise, if the full extent of the impact is not yet known,

  • Then make an initial statement acknowledging the incident, emphasising your commitment to safety and transparency, and promising regular updates.

4. Involve authorities and experts

  • If external expertise and resources are required,

  • Then work with environmental authorities, local authorities, and specialists to manage the crisis effectively.

  • On the other hand, if the company is able to manage the situation,

  • Then proceed with internal resources and keep the authorities informed.

5. Long-term remediation and prevention

  • When the immediate measures have stabilised the situation,

  • Then develop a long-term remediation plan in consultation with environmental experts and community representatives that includes measures to prevent future incidents.

  • Otherwise, if the situation persists,

  • Then continue the immediate actions and re-evaluate regularly.

6. Review and reflect

  • After the crisis is over,

  • Then conduct a thorough review of the incident, the effectiveness of the actions, and areas for improvement. Update policies, procedures, and training as needed to reflect lessons learned and reinforce the company's commitment to environmental protection and community safety.

By embedding VBDM principles such as these into preparedness programmes through techniques such as simulations, employees will be empowered to make ethical decisions in an actual crisis that are firmly rooted in the company's environmental guiding values.

The way forward

Reactive crisis responses are no longer enough today. Organisations need to proactively cultivate resilience, and effective internal communication is the catalyst for this change.

As communication professionals, we have the opportunity to promote organisational resilience through effective internal communications. By championing open dialogue, reinforcing core values, and promoting values-based decision making (VBDM), we can create a corporate culture that fosters trust, transparency, and integrity.

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Investing in robust internal communication strategies pays off not only in times of crisis but also in day-to-day business.

A values-led workforce, equipped with an ethical decision-making framework, can respond quickly and decisively to challenges while safeguarding the organisation's reputation.

So let's embrace our role as a catalyst for change and invest in the power of internal communication. In this way, we not only prepare our organisations for crises, but also cultivate a culture of integrity and trust that will serve us well in the years to come.

What do you think? (just hit reply to this email or comment on the website)

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What I am reading/testing/checking out:

  • Article/Analysis: AI, lies and conspiracy theories: How Latinos became a key target for misinformation in the US election

  • Article: Headed For A Crisis? Corporate Culture Can Provide Early Warning, by Paul Holmes

  • Tool Perplexity (get $10 off with this link): Ask your questions and receive concise, accurate answers backed up by a curated set of sources. It has a conversational interface, contextual awareness, and learns about your interests and preferences over time.

  • Threat Report: Q4 2023 Cyber Threat Landscape Report: Threat Actors Breach the Outer Limits

I'll be running a 2-day workshop on AI and Crisis Communication in collaboration with the professionals of P-World (the organiser of the Global PR Summit and the Global HR Summit in over 40 countries) in Brussels, Belgium, on July 1 and 2. Check out the agenda and early bird tickets here.

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Parts of this newsletter were created using AI technology to draft content. In addition, all AI-generated images include a caption stating, 'This image was created using AI'. These changes were made in line with the transparency requirements of the EU AI law for AI-generated content.

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