Managing employees during a crisis
Returning from a meeting, I pulled into the perfect parking space: Just at the front door of a Starbuck’s. It didn’t take me long to determine how I had gotten so lucky, through my windshield as I saw emblazoned in white on the coffee shop’s tinted front door: “Thanks for two awesome years.”
Starbucks recently announced it would close 600 stores, including 100 had already been slated for closure. Thinking this shop had been shuttered, I was about to pull away when I saw a customer leaving the store with product, indicating the store had not been closed. And when I mentioned the “sign” to an employee, the response was “Oh.”
While my cup of coffee certainly represented only a drop in Starbucks’ coffers, especially in a recession, it counts.
The message here is not complex: If you think the recession won’t or hasn’t yet effected your business, you may not be paying attention.
Frequently companies discuss their employees as “family,” but the fact of the matter is that all too often they do not keep them informed or let the smaller issues slip. This small Starbucks matter serves as a metaphor for employee communications.
The current economic environment, the recession, is a crisis situation that touches virtually every business and its employees with an impact that at minimum moderately unsettling to the employee base. In short, it is an economic environment with very great potential to change lives, perhaps drastically. While it is critical for employees to be informed in “normal” times, it is more so in this economy.
However, planning and implementing a structured employee communications program is much more than a humane action; it is a sound business practice.
Corporate management must seek to engender continued employee loyalty and support, after all, employees are the ones who must to keep the business moving, and be oblivious concerns about job security and generally disruptive rumors – All companies make adjustments during challenging economic times.
These adjustments generally require meetings of senior management and/or the Board of Directors and rumors or information or leak can occur at any time.
In developing internal communications strategies, companies must consider what information to disclose to employees and how best to disclose it, remembering, of course that any piece of information given an employee will eventually find its way to the media.
Specifically important questions to answer for employees in a transaction exercise are the following:
- Is my job in jeopardy?
- Will downsizing occur? If so, when?
- Will my benefits change?
- Will my division/unit/branch be closed, reorganized or relocated?
These issues will arise and management must determine early on how and when to respond.
Evaluating the best way to disseminate information to employees is important. News may be released in a number of ways, e.g.:
- via e-mail
- special internal memoranda
- video conferencing
- utilizing employee communicators
Selecting the most effective vehicle or combination of dissemination vehicles depends on the company and the situation.
Stern And Company recommends that clients combine communications vehicles with the utilization of middle and senior management to spread news to employees. This tactic is frequently supported with internal memoranda developed from news releases, public disclosure materials, shareholder reports and other shareholder mailings, and reprints of advertisements, among others.
This strategy includes scripts for various levels of management, frequently asked questions and answers, security issues, hotline numbers to call for information and so forth.
During an economic crisis period, as in all crises, management must be prepared for possible challenges by employees with the potential of anti-management messages become manifest with the subsequent attraction media attention. Management must be prepared to effectively counter this with its story.
But the primary question for each employee in a crisis, economic or otherwise is: “What happens to me?” Communications must address such points as:
- Job securities, i.e. possible loss of jobs, transfers under consideration, planned reorganizations that will force employees to prove themselves to a new manager
- Job opportunities, i.e. whether departments will be closed or combine, thereby limiting advancement
- Employee benefit changes, i.e. how benefit plans may be consolidated and what, if any steps management is considering in this area
A proactive communications program assures employees that management cares about them and has definite plans for putting the enterprise on a firm footing. Most employees will want to know what those plans are. The most effective technique is an action agenda that is achievable and gives employees specific milestones in the matter e.g. reaching profitability, narrowing losses, layoffs completed.
Management should keep employees updated through the period, informing them of milestones reached or modified, as well as changes to the action agenda. While it is difficult to address all employee concerns, it is better for management to acknowledge that it doesn’t have all the answers than to allow confusion to reign for a protracted period.
Generally, during the any crisis period, employee communications must:
- Reflect a sense of urgency
- Recognize the legitimate needs and desires of employees to have regular and timely information
- Build in feedback mechanisms to give employees a changes to get answers to specific questions.
In sum, companies of moment much have an employee communications plan in place and that plan should be dynamic and comprise crisis components. The strategies must be considered at the earliest stages, otherwise a company may still be digging itself out of a bad situation a year or two after the crisis, simply because it did not plan properly for employee communications before the merger became a reality.
About Stern And Company
Stern And Company, based in Las Vegas, develops and implements strategic corporate communications, financial relations and marketing programs for public and private companies.
All of our professionals have extensive senior-level experience as financial journalists with major publications or as communications executives at leading major corporations. Our firm’s practice areas include corporate and financial relations, public relations, strategic and product marketing, crisis communications, transaction communications, restructurings, bankruptcies and litigation support.
Stern And Company
info @ sdsternpr.com