How to communicate snow comms

It’s snowing in London today and you’re already searching for “snow comms” advice. So freshly blogged, here’s a reminder of 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 or hot chocolate and let’s get on with getting you sorted.

Communicating through the blizzard

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). I now advise All Things IC’s clients on crisis comms, including snow comms.

By the nature of our job, you can’t prepare for every eventuality, but there are some things you can do to get a head start, I’ve detailed them below.

If you know snow is likely, why not have your draft content ready to go? It saves you time as you’ll be filling in blanks rather than have a blank screen in front of you when the white stuff hits.

Every season of snow comms will be unique as timelines could be different, you may have opened new sites since the last time, or introduced an app you now need to update. The essence of snow comms is it’s unique every time you create it, but I bet there are elements from previous years you can repurpose and learn from.

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 latest 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.

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
  • 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 to hand is vital. Do you have your CEO’s mobile number in your phone? Do you have all the chargers you need at home?

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.

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? How will they get in touch? What are your two-way channels?

Crisis communication is only truly effective if you know information has been interpreted in the right way. The only way to know whether it has is to ask and have channels and methods where employees can ask questions to clarify information. This is not the time for merely broadcasting.

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?
  • What is your single source of truth? E.g. where will they check first? Line manager/enterprise social network/intranet?
  • Do you have the necessary permissions to access all the methods you need to use?
  • What are your two-way channels of communication? In other words, how can people ask questions?

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Read my article on how organisations are using external channels for internal crisis comms.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to create, map and keep stakeholder relationships – includes a download of a stakeholder map you could use to help prepare snow comms to ensure you remember everyone.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to get more done in your day – includes a free download of the daily planner I use.

If you rely on line managers to communicate with your frontline workers, are you providing them with everything they need. Do they need additional support and know who to contact in your team to get the latest information to communicate or know where to check?

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? As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

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. E.g. if it’s snowing, whether to travel in or not.

It’s no excuse not to know what’s being said by other teams. Now, more than ever, you need to be joined up. Do you have a snow comms group on Yammer or Workplace for example?

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.

I’ve often found communication breakdowns in crisis/snow scenarios are because people don’t have the latest information to hand and are communicating incorrect or outdated information.

You need to make sure you’re joined up, particularly if your content impacts decision-making. Could you create a snow comms hashtag or group in your enterprise social network?

6)  Review
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).

Post author: Rachel Miller

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Topics include Internal Communication, Strategic Internal Comms and Change Communication.

First published on the All Things IC blog 10 December 2017. Updated 2018.


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