Crisis Communication Guide for HR
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Communications will need to differ for different audiences, depending on how they are impacted by the crisis. Segment internal audiences to deliver crisis communications unique to the differing needs of employees
CXO UG recommends segmenting into three to five internal audiences to start, typically by level of management: employees, managers, and senior leaders. Alternatively, segment by geography, department, or work environment, or some combination of the three
Geography Employees from different locations may share similar business objectives depending on the department they are in, but the extent of the crisis may vary by location in severity, and therefore, need different communications.
Department Different departments may have a similar culture, but different business continuity plans in the face of the crisis. Segment communication to ensure departments get the right information. This approach is best used in organizations where departments have distinct functions.
Work Environment Work environment may affect several things: the communication channels audiences have access to, the amount of time available to consume information, or the ability to direct contact the audience. Depending on the severity of the crisis, work environments may change without notice. Ensure your communication matches the channels and mediums employees have access to.
Draft a plan
Establish and share consistent protocols that leadership and employees can rely on for information involving business continuity.
Example of protocols:
All messages concerning business closures will come from senior leadership.
Any messages concerning working from home will come from your team lead.
Direct all questions concerning time off and resources to HR.
Make sure to include a mechanism for two-way feedback in your protocols to ensure any questions that may be helpful for everyone are being shared upwardly.
Determine who will oversee delivering messages at the organizational level, department level, and team level.
Customize communications to reflect the deliverer’s personality to maintain authenticity.
Determine who will review the messages before they are delivered to ensure consistency of extremely sensitive released messages.
Involve the experts: To ensure the accuracy, have the legal or the communications department approve the message before delivery.
While crisis situations operate in uncertainty, it’s important to be as transparent and as consistent as possible when delivering communications.
Set timelines for leadership for when they are expected to communicate key messages and for employees for when they can expect communications.
The nature of a crisis is ever-evolving – leave room to iterate your communication plan and re-assign roles as the situation unfolds. Key stakeholders or actions are subject to change daily or even hourly; be aware that iteration is a key part to any crisis communication plan.
When defining key messages be sure to reference your organizational communication principles; transparency, authenticity, and timeliness are of great importance when the nature of the message is sensitive.
What are key messages?
Key messages guide all internal communications to ensure they are consistent, unified, and straightforward.
Distill key messages down from the business continuity plan and use them to reinforce the organization’s strategic direction.
Key messages should:
Inspire employees to act in a way that will help the organization achieve its business continuity plan.
Reassure employees during this uncertain time with clear, straightforward information.
Encourage two-way communication while providing guidance on resources employees can visit to avoid bottlenecks on certain people or departments.
How to establish key messages
Key messages in a time of crisis should be clear, concise, and informative. The intent is to convey important information in a way that minimizes need for interpretation and is relatable, to promote reinforcement, and ultimately, to drive action.
Ground key messages in organizational strategy and culture.
These should be the first places you look to determine your organization’s key messages:
Refer to organizational business continuity plan. What needs to be reinforced in internal communications to ensure the organization can achieve its business continuity plan? This is a key message.
Key crisis communication points:
Commitment to health and safety, key actions taken, ownership of key actions, resources available, and timelines
Segment key messages
Key messages can vary based on audience segment. Consider each audience segment and determine:
Which key messages can be broadcast to the entire organization?
Which key messages need to be segmented based on audience?
Key messages that may need to be segmented, given work environments and employee level, include:
CXO UG has created the HR Crisis Communications Guide Template is to provide communicators (i.e. anyone writing or sharing communications) across the organization with guidance on how to communicate effectively. It is meant to be customized by the communicator and should be used in conjunction with CXO's Crisis Communication Guide for HR and Operations.
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