How to manage the frontline in a crisis

When a crisis or issue strikes, the first reaction of most organisations is to contain the situation and limit the number of people ‘in-the-know’ to as few as possible.

However, leaving your frontline employees in the dark can be a critical mistake. Without a clear understanding of the situation rumours can run rife, employees can start to imagine the very worst and a simple comment among friends or a social media post can lead to full-blown media circus.

Below are IMPACT’s top tips for turning your employees into your frontline of defence:

  1. Problem + impact = issue

In daily operations every organisation is bound to experience its fair share of issues or problems. The real test of whether a problem is an issue, or just a complication, is whether it will harm the organisation’s brand or disrupt its customers or stakeholders.

Every organisation should have an appointed issues management team with an issues management plan already mapped out. This will determine the likelihood of potential issues/crisis and their effect. It encourages as much as advance preparation as possible to deal with each scenario.

  1. Be honest and transparent

If your organisation is facing an issue or crisis, you must arm your frontline with the facts. A memo should be circulated to all team members outlining the following information:

  • Situation: What has occurred? When did it occur and who does it affect?
  • What to expect: Is the issue already public knowledge? Will it be of interest to media? Should the organisation expect to receive calls or visits from concerned customers, stakeholders or media?
  • What happens next: What is the organisation doing about the situation and what can employees do to help?
  1. A role for everyone

Everyone will have a role to play if your organisation is facing a crisis and they must be ready to respond.

You can prepare your frontline by quickly distributing customer and media handling notes to ensure that no enquiry or concern fans the flame.

These notes should provide clear instructions on how any question or query should be handled, including:

  • Who the issues management team has appointed as the spokesperson to manage all enquiries
  • How to take notes from customers or media to ensure that the spokesperson has as much information as possible to respond to the enquiry
  • How to manage media questions without saying ‘no comment’
  • What information they can share with media, customers, stakeholders, friends and family
  • What they can and can’t share via social media and how they should manage posts on their own social media handles that relate to the issue

Often, crises are simply issues that were initially not dealt with in an appropriate manner and are now out of control. The sooner an organisation responds to the development of an issue, the greater the chance it has of positively influencing the outcome.

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