Yesterday was another day of consultation calls with communication practitioners. The topic of conversation across them all was COVID-19, whether a remark in passing or an in-depth discussion.
This morning I reminded the members of the closed LinkedIn group for my Masterclass alumni about my crisis comms guide. I’ve distributed hundreds of crisis comms guides over the years in goody bags and know they’ve helped IC practitioners in various situations.
I know the guide is open on some desks right now (see the pic below I got sent this morning). Today I thought I’d share that guide with you for free. I wrote it back in 2016 and know there are many copies out in the wild.
Now you can get your own All Things IC Crisis Comms Guide. I’m not making you submit your email or anything like that. It’s here, it’s free, help yourself. I hope it aids you in your COVID-19 response.
I’ve also recorded it as a short video on YouTube:
You can see a glimpse of some of the pages below.
Get your own version of my Crisis Communication Guide.
How to get approval for your internal comms
Timing is of the essence right now. I know some IC practitioners are feeling frustrated by the levels of bureaucracy and multiple sign-offs they have having to go through. Why? Because it slows down the flow of information and communication in our organisations. You need timely, targeted and relevant advice.
We know the importance of sign-offs. However, this is an iterative situation. If you wait until you have a beautifully crafted and polished statement, there’s a chance the situation will have changed once it finally gets released. You need your stakeholders to understand this.
What can you do? You need to have a plan for sign-offs. Who are your guiding coalition/decision makers?
My advice is to have timed statements. When you are writing something, add the date and time on it. Sometimes you could release more than one statement a day, it’s important your employees know which one is the latest one, which is where adding the date and time helps.
This is where two-way communication with your employees comes into its own. Even if you have a statement you think answers all their questions, there will always be one person (or more) who doesn’t understand it, doesn’t know the action they need to take and isn’t sure about something in there.
I know it is frustrating, but you need to have a clear plan for sign-offs and sometimes that means waiting a little longer that you’d like. Why? Sharing inaccurate information does no favours to anyone. Set deadlines for statements, but you’ll know based on your culture and the way your company communicates, when the right time is.
Be bold and decisive. Now is the time for considered communication and action. If you wait until everything is perfect, you’ll never communicate anything. Manage expectations from employees and stakeholders – give certainty of communication even when you can’t give certainty of content.
For example: “we will be publishing full details about our working remotely arrangements later this afternoon” or “we know employees are asking questions about working in X location. We will share advice on this topic at X time/date” – give certainty of communication, even if you can’t give certainty of content.
I’ve been sharing my stakeholder map a lot over the past week as sometimes the delays in sign-offs are because certain groups of employees have been forgotten.
Do your homework. Keep calm and think things through thoroughly. This article will help you: How to create, map and keep stakeholder relationships.
Situations I’ve helped clients think through over the past week include:
- What if our employees can’t work from home because they have building work/children/no internet access?
- How do we determine what a relevant location is for them to work? Do we decide or do they?
- How do we keep our frontline employees informed as they’re offline?
- What should we tell our people managers?
- How can we collate questions from people managers?
- Should we update our HR policies?
- What should we say about hygiene and washing hands?
Recap of key points you need to remember during COVID-19
Here is some of the advice I’ve been sharing with my clients and mentioned in previous blog posts:
Source of truth
Make sure you know where the source of truth is in your organisation. Is it your intranet? Line managers? Do they contain/have the relevant information so your people can make informed decisions? (Regular readers of my blog will know my unscientific test for this is snow comms – if it snowed, would people refer to their people managers or intranet first?).
What are the rumours? Consider publishing myth-busters if you have rumours re: home-working / self-isolation happening in your company. See above – you need a source of truth where you publish credible, accurate and reliable information.
For medical information, refer to any of the sites I’ve listed in this blog.
Consider creating a glossary. There are a few unusual terms around e.g. self-isolation. You may know what it means based on medical websites, but what does it mean for your organisation?
What it means for your company
For company-specific information, you need to firstly know what people are talking about, then point them towards accurate and reliable information. This could be a Q&A section of your intranet, a conversation thread on Yammer or a line managers’ briefing.
The method doesn’t matter, what’s in it does – if you’re creating content, make sure your employees know where to go to discover the latest situation and be able to ask questions – you need to have two-way mechanisms in place. This is not the time for broadcasting. .
In crisis situations, my rule is to give certainty of communication, even if I can’t give certainty of content. I recommend doing the same for COVID-19.
This means statements like we will keep the intranet updated daily. Then you need to stick to that. It becomes your source of truth. Yes sometimes the update will say there is nothing new to add, yesterday’s information still stands. You’re still providing an update (certainty of communication).
In my experience, when you say nothing, employees fill in the gaps or think you have something to hide. Ideally to champion the two-way element, you need comments on and you need to monitor what is coming in from employees so you can respond. Sentiment analysis on enterprise social networks will help you see at a glance.
Work with your internal network
Create a guiding coalition (this will be familiar to Kotter fans if you’ve studied Change Comms). This is essentially a group of decision makers, typically Comms, HR, IT, Facilities and Legal in situations like this who make decisions e.g. who is providing equipment if employees are able to work from home, are you closing sites etc.
Tip: Don’t forget to update your employee assistance provider (EAP) if you are making internal decisions they need to be aware of.
Further reading about crisis communication via the All Things IC website
I’ve written about crisis comms many times on my blog since 2009. I’ve collated some of those articles below:
- How to prepare crisis and terrorism comms
- Explore content tagged crisis comms
- Crisis Comms Checklist
- Free skills guide on crisis comms and social media.
Where to get accurate medical information about COVID-19
- Public Health England’s website
- Dedicated NHS website https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19
- Health Service Executive
- The World Health Organization
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statistics and official response
- Based in the UK? This website has the latest Government response.
- This website gives you the latest statistics.
- This website includes the latest confirmed cases, deaths and recovered figures.
Employee questions to answer
See my latest blog post (published 10 March 2020) packed with advice and guidance to help you communicate COVID-19 working patterns such as working from home or self-isolation.
How to use technology to bring employees together remotely
See my blog post I published a few days ago re: using technology to communicate with employees. It includes how-to guides for Workplace, Teams, Yammer and more.
I hope this is useful, I feel like I could write a lot more. What’s missing? How can I help?
As ever, thank you for stopping by and don’t forget to thoroughly wash your hands!
First published on the All Things IC blog 10 March 2020.