During a crisis, effective internal communications are key to protecting three things: your organization’s reputation; the trust and confidence of employees; and the credibility of leadership. You want your people to know that you’re in control and handling the situation appropriately. And you want them to learn about it from you first, and not through some online news report. For these reasons, you don’t want to wait until a crisis hits to discover that your internal communication channels aren’t working. It shouldn’t matter whether the crisis is a cyberattack or a power failure that collapsed your network. You can’t afford a communication breakdown simply because no one uses your go-to backup. In this article we’ll discuss how to create effective communication channels for your organization.
How to Create Effective Employee Communication Channels That Serve You Well in a Crisis
The answer to the former problem (power failure/cyberattack/etc.) may seem straightforward: designate and mandate an alternative communications channel. Text may seem like a reasonable alternative; everyone has a cellphone, right? Of course, cell service can fail too, or a power outage could last so long that charging phones becomes a challenge. However, even when cell service isn’t interrupted, texting has limitations. If you send a secure text via Messenger, but a good number of your employees use Telegram or WhatsApp, those employees are not receiving the message. In fact, they don’t even know a message has been sent.
In truth, regardless of policies, the value of your employee communication channels degraded long ago. It’s not just text. Which social media platform would be most effective? LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter DM? Two years ago, you invested in training staff to use Teams, but current managers and staff now prefer Slack. For others, the default is … well, you get the point.
The Puzzle: Promoting Use of Standard Comms Channels
Acceptance of new communication platforms typically grows organically. Early adopters embrace the new and advocate its use, often at the urging of the platform itself (“Invite your friends to join WhatsApp.” “Your contact, ‘Boss,’ has joined Telegram.”). Moreover, every platform – once available – joins the expanding universe of existing channels. To mix cosmological metaphors, imagine old, mostly abandoned platforms as space junk – they’re floating around out there and may still be supported, but they’re mostly just problematic garbage.
The takeaway? It’s unlikely you’ve sanctioned the platforms your people actually use, and even less likely that you’ve integrated protocols for their use in any policy-driven way. Heck, if you’re old and your colleagues are young, you may not even know that what they’re using exists.
So how do you determine whether what you have in place is up to the challenge of sustaining mission-critical communications during a crisis? Relatively large organizations can invest in systems that communicate with everyone associated with the organization via text, e-mail and even voice. However, cost can put those same systems out of reach for smaller businesses. That’s also why smaller entities are more likely to be hampered by the steady onslaught of new communication platforms and channels.
So How Does a Small Business Determine What Its People Are Using?
The first step is often overlooked: ask. If your organization isn’t Amazon, Google, or the federal government with hundreds of thousands of employees, you can simply poll them (use Survey Monkey, for instance) about their preferred communication platforms under a variety of circumstances. Once you identify a predominant platform (or perhaps two), you can adopt it by policy and let all employees know that leadership will share official communications on that platform. If you make this an annual exercise and adopt it for leadership comms immediately, you can be confident that your chosen platform will be up-to-date, and that employees will receive mission-critical communications.
Ensuring That They’ll Also Read Them Requires Follow-through
Once you choose a particular platform, make certain your people can use it. Help them upload the app, give them access to the system if it’s proprietary, provide adequate training, and – perhaps most important – schedule impromptu drills. Implement all four steps and you can trust that the platform will work the way you want it to when a crisis hits.
Take the same approach to confirm the effectiveness of comms channels you use for more mundane internal messages. For example, you know that monthly staff and client newsletter you spend so much time and effort to crank out? When was the last time you determined whether employees actually read it? Same for emails that detail new procedures or policy changes. If you’re not monitoring a platform’s use or require action in response to the message itself (not just a reply that it was received), you can’t know whether anyone’s even read it.