In a crisis situation, every word matters: prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Not exactly a fun way to start off a day; however, when it comes to preparing for a crisis, you must think “worst-case scenario.”  

It’s easy to say, “It’s never going to happen to me, or not in my location.” Hopefully, that will be the case, but chances are it will and your team needs to be prepared. Of course, it depends on what you define as a crisis. In the broadest terms, I would say a crisis is anything that puts your employees or your business at risk. Some obvious crisis scenarios are fires, explosions, active shooters, employee fatalities, or situations that draw media attention and test an organization’s resolve.

There are also not-so-obvious ones: weather scenarios; a data breach; an employee injury; a disgruntled former employee; and countless others. Obvious or not, being prepared will make taking control of the narrative easier.  

Let’s start out with an easy one: COVID-19. That was a crisis. It challenged manufacturers, distributors, and corporations alike insofar as how best to deal with a once-in-a-lifetime scenario where there was no playbook for management to follow, other than pure instinct and direction from government officials.  

It had so many moving parts — remote working for office staff, potential business shutdowns, daily health monitoring of employees who needed to come on-site, illness tracking, and the list goes on.

The key to it all, aside from excellent emergency planning and preparedness, is communication. There are many constituents you need to communicate to in a crisis.  For today, we’ll focus on your most important asset: your employees.

Your employees depend on their jobs. It is their livelihood to help support their families, provide insurance, and literally food on the table. Your first responsibility as an employer is to tell them what is going on — clearly, simply, often, and with care.

Five Things to Keep in Mind

1. Keep them informed. If you were them, what would you want to know?

Here’s an example communique following a work accident:  Earlier today, we had a minor accident in the yard when a forklift tipped over when moving a pallet of shingles. Thankfully, the driver suffered only minor scrapes and was immediately taken to urgent care for treatment. We are still looking into the cause of the accident. Please take extra care in your activities being mindful that your safety, above else, is our top priority. Thank you.

2. Every word matters. Keep it simple, straightforward, and honest. Don’t sugarcoat or use big corporate-ease type of language.

3. Be compassionate. This is a tremendous way to build trust and loyalty with your workforce. Employees want to feel appreciated and cared about, particularly in an industry where accidents or situations can arise that might put their safety at risk.

4. Communicate their way. Communicate on your employees’ level and in their languages. If they are out in the warehouse or production line and don’t have easy access to email, or are at home, use a text messaging program to reach them all instantly. I have used one and it’s both simple and effective. If you have a multi-lingual workforce, translate your messages in advance. Have a good quality translation service or go-to employees who can help turn around messages quickly.

5. Communicate early and often. The absence of information will only lead to speculation. Don’t leave your employees wondering what to do next.

This is the tip, and I mean very tip, of the iceberg. Employees are your top priority; however, there are other important audiences: upper management, customers, suppliers, the neighboring community or township, the media. These are all critical constituents and must be part of your communications planning. The important thing is stay calm and focused, with a consistent message and one that shows deep care and compassion for people.