Are communication professionals ready to deal with a crisis? To what extent can other employees be of assistance in turbulent times? These are some of important questions communicators should be asking themselves.
Studies suggest that internal stakeholders are the most essential stakeholders in times of a crisis. However, it has been observed that internal crisis communication (ICC) is underutilised by organisations. Communication professionals act as information distributors and they often rely on pre-existing strategies (mainly external communication strategies) expecting that they will fulfil the mission of an internal communication plan.
To make it even more complicated, culture poses a great challenge to multinationals. Research highlights the importance of the cultural background of employees in internal communication and more particularly during a crisis. As a result, line managers and local communicators take the role of sensemaking facilitator. In other words, local managers and communicators act as cultural interpreters. However, line managers and local communicators need to be trained and empowered to do that before a crisis occurs.
Furthermore, an adaptation of internal crisis communication is not only about the translation of the text produced at headquarters. Local tailoring includes proper framing of the message, choice of the right channel(s) and the most credible spokesperson. Communicators need to overcome complexities related to educational level or where the employees are located at (behind a desk, in a laboratory or in the field, for instance). Consequently, public relations professionals need to be more sensitive to the multicultural nuances of different publics, both in an international arena and within their own geographic locales.
On the other hand, employees also need to be given the tools to face and manage a crisis, be able to make sense of the situation and answer possible questions coming from families, friends and even from journalists. Management and communication professionals should treat employees as active sensemakers as well as sensegivers and they should engage with as many as possible employees. This will provide a better understanding of the events and a great opportunity for management to get feedback, deal with rumours and lead the way on how to handle a crisis.
Employees can be mobilised before, during, and after a crisis situation given that they contribute as internal communicators as well as act as external corporate ambassadors. ICC as a function is responsible for the communicative interaction among managers and employees before, during and after an organisational or societal crisis.
Even though ICC has a lot to offer for communications professionals, organisations will only reap the benefits by further developing their internal communication function. What about your organisation? What is your approach to ICC? Have you experienced anything similar to the examples given above?
I am currently writing my master thesis dissertation on this field and I would appreciate if you could spare some of your time (40-60 min) for an anonymous interview where we can discuss your approach and experiences regarding the matter.
Angelos Vasileiou holds a Bachelor degree in Communication and Media Studies from the University of Athens and iscurrently enrolled in the MSc in Strategic Communication at Lund University, Sweden. To speak to him about your experiences with internal cirsis communications, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.