On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the coronavirus outbreak that originated in China was a “public health emergency of international concern.” In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that more cases are likely to be identified globally and in the United States, which could overload public health and healthcare systems, communities and places of business.
During these types of emergency crisis situations, it’s important for communicators and business leaders to consider the impact on internal audiences and establish enterprise-wide leadership, connectivity and information-sharing opportunities, in lockstep with the company’s purpose and values.
Address Key Challenges
- Misinformation. People are looking for information. To help leaders and colleagues understand what’s happening and avoid misinformation, focus on the facts. Let people know how the crisis impacts colleagues and the company. Convey the most critical information in a way that is simple and easy to understand. Point people to authoritative bodies (e.g., World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, International SOS, Johns Hopkins).
- Conflicting and/or redundant information. Managing the message is key. To avoid conflicting and/or redundant information from spreading, centralize communications and create one source of truth. Equip leaders to talk about the situation effectively and elevate issues and concerns. You may not be able to respond to every question or issue. When you don’t know, say so with something like, “We don’t have the information at this time, but we will follow up when more information becomes available.”
- Colleague safety. As you can imagine, there is a lot of fear and confusion in the workforce and colleagues are battling with their psychological safety. To promote the wellbeing and safety of employees, take a receiver-centric point of view. Listen to concerns. Simply asking employees how they feel is a powerful tool to determine how to lead through the situation. Provide comfort and care for those colleagues who are most impacted, but don’t forget the broader impact of the situation. Address the questions and concerns on people’s minds from across your organization, not just those immediately impacted in China.
- Assemble response team. Bring a cross-functional team together to address the challenges and impacts to colleagues and business operations.
- Gather the facts. Start by creating a fact sheet that gathers as much information and validates the facts.
- Develop a communications and engagement plan. Determine top communications and engagement-related goals and strategies and ensure these thoughts are consistent with the company’s purpose and values.
- Inform and equip leaders. Provide leaders with targeted key messaging, policies and/or FAQs to support company and teams.
- Communicate with colleagues. Send messages to broad and targeted audiences using leader communications and/or intranet articles.
- Create an intranet page. Dedicate a space on the company intranet to post updates, communications and supporting materials that provide colleagues with a central source of credible information.
- Develop & update FAQ. Consider the questions on colleagues’ minds and update them as new information unfolds. Crowdsource questions from colleagues and add them to the FAQ.
- Care for colleagues. Show colleagues you care by donating supplies, making donations and sending virtual cards and well wishes to show support.
- Engage social media. If appropriate, work with your social media team and/or content providers to ensure consistent communications across all external communications vehicles.
- Questions? Identify the best channels for colleagues to share their questions and concerns.
- Track feedback. Look at engagement and feedback on communications and resources provided to inform plans for future situations.