Like many parents, it’s a rare treat if I make it through a week without hearing a reference to Olaf, Princess Anna or wrestling my daughter out of her Elsa dress.
The film Frozen has taken everyone by storm, yet for comms pros the onset of snow and ice can only mean one thing… snow comms.
As the UK looks set to welcome the white stuff this week, I thought I’d share my top tips to help you get organised.
It is thundersnow after all. Gulp.
Here’s what to do if you’re responsible for communicating business continuity plans (bcp), steps to take and how to look like you’re on top of it all.
Further reading: See my glossary of internal communication to navigate the jargon.
It’s a long read, so grab a cup of tea and let’s get on with getting you sorted.
Communicating through the blizzard – a focus on “snow comms”
At some point in their career, every comms professional encounters the need to advise during a crisis.
It’s known as “crisis comms” (which is a broad term covering everything from bad weather to fatalities – see my glossary for more info), and is a time when you need to think on your feet, keep calm and most importantly, ensure consistency in your work and the information being shared inside and outside your organisation.
As an ex-journalist, I must admit I do like a bit of crisis comms. It’s not as scary as you may think. The key thing to remember is to get organised ahead of time, as much as you can.
By the nature of our job, you can’t always prepare for every eventuality, but there are some things you can do to get a head start. I’ve detailed them below.
“Snow comms” should be like snowflakes – unique each time you create them
I worked in-house for a decade. Throughout that time there were various spells of bad weather and I often found myself on call and waking up in the small hours to set to work.
Tasks included creating messages for employees, arranging for employee information lines (hotlines) to be updated and dialling into various conference calls with IT, Facilities, Security, HR, CEOs etc, all from the relatively warm comfort of my home.
As a cross-functional team we decided whether to open or close offices/factories and then set the wheels in motion to ensure everyone knew the latest decisions and have ways to ask questions.
The ability to connect with employees regardless of location comes into its own when looking at crisis comms and business continuity plans (bcp).
So whether at a desk or in your lounge, making sure you have everything you need at hand is vital.
Tip: A crisis is an unplanned and often unforeseen circumstance, but following the advice in this article will help prepare you.
Further reading via the All Things IC blog:
Read my article to prepare your crisis communication checklist.
What do I mean by the snowflake statement above?
To give yourself a head start when responding to a crisis or looking at bcp communications it makes sense to have a template to work from or at least an understanding of what has been said before.
It goes without saying that there will of course be certain unforeseen situations that you can do nothing to prepare for in advance.
Remember to tailor your new message for your employees and the situation, just as you would any other communication.
Tip: Blanket statements which are too generic and leave employees with more questions than answers are less than ideal. Don’t be vague, confirm what you know and be honest. Hiding information does no one any favours.
Who are they?
Bear in mind your employees (aka the ‘audience’, yuck, I really hate that phrase!). Do you need to send separate messages e.g. to senior managers, line managers, frontline employees which includes different information for each group?
Questions to ask:
- If your frontline employees are not online, do they know where to get info from?
- What channels do you have in place that you can use – how do they usually hear information?
- Do you have the necessary permissions to access all the methods you need to use?
Further reading: Read my article on how organisations are using external channels for internal crisis comms.
If you rely on frontline managers, are you providing them with everything they need. Do they need additional support and know who to contact?
Timing is everything
Remember to let employees know when they can next expect to hear information – this reduces the questions coming directly to the comms team and manages expectations.
Tip: I’ve found that saying a hotline will be updated at a certain time or email will be sent at a specific time is helpful.
Remember it’s also useful to say things like “at this point in time there is nothing further to add to previous communications, but we will update this information at X time”.
The fact that you are constantly communicating is helpful, it’s ok to say you don’t have anything extra (honestly!), just keep those lines open and keep in touch.
Tip: Remember to listen as well as broadcast. I know you know this. But it’s crucial in times like these. Are you providing ways for employees to ask questions and find out more? Is the information making sense or do you need to clarify anything? Are you using comms champions or social media? The opportunities are endless.
What are your experiences of crisis/bcp comms?
Here are my top tips:
1) Preparation is key
Can your comms team access their email, shared drives and send messages remotely to the whole organisation when not physically in the office?
Do they have all the mobile numbers they need pre-programmed into their phones and the relevant chargers etc at home? Does everyone know how to update information lines remotely?
Tip: Don’t keep access codes and instructions solely on email. If your system is down you won’t be able to get to the information you need – have a hard copy at home with instructions to follow and lists of phone numbers.
Make sure you know what your data protection policies are to know the best place to securely store such information.
Can you prepare anything in advance – e.g. set up a conference call number for a cross-functional business continuity team or write basic statements as a starting point which you can tailor as required?
2) Refresh your memory
What have you said before? Did you have ‘snow comms’ earlier this year? What did you say then? How do your employees expect to know information?
What worked/was a complete disaster last time you had a similar situation? Learn from mistakes and build on the successes.
If you’re new in role, make sure you ask employees and colleagues who remember snow comms from last time around.
Being new is no excuse to repeat old mistakes. (Harsh but true!).
3) Promote your crisis comms channels
If you have identified channels you will use solely for crisis communication, are your employees aware of them? For example if you have an employee information line, ensure you promote it all year round and encourage people to save the number in their mobiles so it is to hand if they need it.
I’ve worked in companies that produce wallet-sized cards for employees containing info like this which are distributed when employees join.
Tip: Ensure business continuity plans are included in your induction and that contractors know the processes too.
4) Be consistent
Ensure your internal and external messaging align. Employees will check all channels and methods to look for information, particularly in times of crisis.
What’s shared internally needs to match up with external messaging as employees will make decisions about their actions based on what they read.
It’s no excuse not to know what’s being said by other teams. Now, more than ever, you need to be joined up.
5) Keep in touch
If you have a comms lead to respond to crisis or business continuity plans, remember to keep the rest of the comms team and your stakeholders updated about decisions and next steps.
Once the crisis is over have a review of how things went.
What worked well, what could be improved for next time, what do you need to do differently? Ask employees for their feedback – what did they find helpful, what did they need?
Good luck to all communicators, both internal and external, who are ‘doing snow comms’ at the moment or preparing for them.
(If the snow doesn’t come, you’ll be prepared when it does in future and look super organised).
P.s. I spotted this from Heathrow Airport this week giving an indication of their response. I like the fact they chose to communicate via an infographic, so thought I’d share it:
Want to read more?
I’ve written about crisis comms a number of times on my blog over the years. See my articles on:
- Using external channels for your crisis (internal) communication
- Crisis communication checklist
- How to use Yammer for business continuity planning.
What are your top tips for snow comms? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.
Want to improve your internal comms skills?
If you are looking for ways to boost your knowledge of internal communication, I have a course for you.
Every month All Things IC runs a Masterclass for professional communicators. This month the topic is internal communication and it’s on 24 January 2017.
The course is suitable for people who are new in role, have a couple of years worth of experience under their belts, or who would like a refresher.
(There’s a senior-level Masterclass on 23 March if that level isn’t the right one for you).
There are a handful of spaces left for the 24 January course, so do get your skates on if you’d like to join me.
It costs £499 +VAT per person and if you’re a nonprofit organisation, use the discount code NFP20 to save 20 per cent off your booking. CIPR and IoIC members can earn CPD points for attending.
- Internal Communication: 24 January 2017, led by Rachel Miller, £499 +VAT
- Writing Skills Masterclass: 22 February 2017 with Helen Deverell, £399 +VAT
- Strategic Internal Communication: (for senior-level practitioners), 23 March 2017, led by Rachel Miller, £499 +VAT
- Internal Communication: 27 April 2017, led by Rachel Miller, £499 +VAT.
I hope to see you there,
Post author: Rachel Miller @AllthingsIC.
Republished on the All Things IC blog 17 January 2017.