HBR: 5 steps to mastering internal & external crisis communications

When facing a rapidly growing and changing global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, an organization's first instinct may be to batten down the hatches and go silent while riding out the uncertainty.

However, the opposite is a stronger strategy: During these confusing and difficult times, overcommunication is key.

As Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business, writes in the Harvard Business Review, "When dealing with uncertainty, leaders need to look at communication from the perspective of your audience and have empathy for them rather than fear of doing the wrong thing. This requires companies to communicate when they don't have all of the information, to reveal as much as they can about sensitive information and to be vigilant about correcting mistakes without worrying about the repercussions."

Mr. Argenti suggested five steps that will help leaders communicate most effectively through a crisis:

1. Create a team for centralized communication: Start by bringing together a small internal task force that will lead the organization's crisis communications, comprising at least one executive, a representative from the corporate communications team, a human resources leader and an expert in the crisis at hand.

2. Communicate with employees: Clear and effective communication with customers and other stakeholders start with clear and effective internal communications. "The company needs to demystify the situation for employees, put everyone's mind at ease and provide hope for the future," Mr. Argenti wrote.

3. Communicate regularly with customers: Customers must be kept informed in a different fashion than employees — with a focus on offering empathy and providing relief where possible.

4. Reassure shareholders: Transparency is crucial to surviving the financial volatility that comes with a global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic; shareholders should be kept informed about the organization's response to the crisis and reminded of long-term goals and values.

5. Be proactive with communities: Crises also present great opportunities to connect with local communities by providing necessary resources and supplies, offering information to local media and being transparent about the organization's operations.

Read more here.

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