Employee Comms

Top 5 Crisis Management Comms Mistakes


 — March 29th, 2024

Top 5 Crisis Management Comms Mistakes

Being honest without spreading panic. Responding quickly without being too hasty. Empathizing without losing objectivity. Managing comms in a crisis is like walking a tightrope. Treading that line between transparency and reassurance can pose considerable challenges.

According to PwC’s Global Crisis and Resilience Survey 2023, a staggering 96% of organizations have grappled with a crisis within the past two years. So, it follows that organizations should remain in a perpetual state of preparedness, right? And yet, despite the inevitability of crises, time and time again, the necessary plans and processes are either non-existent, outdated, or inadequate. As the frequency - and complexity - of crises continue to escalate, organizations cannot afford to keep repeating past mistakes.

Open and regular communication is the antidote to anxiety and confusion. Successful crisis communications provide clarity and confidence during turbulent times, ensuring business continuity, facilitating resilience, and, above all, protecting brand reputation.

So, let’s learn from the missteps of others and empower ourselves with the knowledge needed to steer through crises successfully. Check out the top five crisis management comms mistakes you need to avoid.

1. Not having a tried and tested system in place.

According to the Gallagher State of the Sector 2023/24 Report less than half of organizations have a crisis management plan or process in place. Unthinkable! Equally astonishing is the number of organizations lacking a tried-and-tested crisis management system. Seasoned communication professionals know that a plan alone is simply not enough.

Essential elements include pre-approved templates, a dedicated response team, and a ready distribution network poised for immediate action when a crisis unfolds. This proactive approach avoids last-minute scrambling, ensuring materials align with the organization’s purpose and values, are rigorously tested, and consistently updated. With predefined roles and responsibilities, those involved in the response are well-versed in the agreed process and well-prepared to act promptly and effectively.

As Internal Comms expert, Priya Bates points out: “The thinking we do when we aren't in crisis most helps create calm amidst chaos.”

2. Failure to steady the ship

Now is the time for exceptional leadership. Stakeholders anticipate a timely, factual, and authentic response. Beyond that, they want their leaders to acknowledge the emotional toll a crisis imposes and to demonstrate empathy through both words and actions.

The efficacy of a leader's crisis management directly influences the trust vested in them. Any attempts to manipulate, procrastinate, or obfuscate people will lead to mistrust. In times of crisis, leadership must not only navigate the storm but also be visible and accessible to their employees. No hiding! In critical moments, leaders should be present and refrain from delegating important announcements to spokespeople, embodying accountability and connection.

3. Overcomplicating communications

This is a common pitfall, not limited to crisis situations! Choose a language that resonates universally, devoid of industry jargon, complex acronyms, or catchphrases that mean nothing to the reader.

Prioritize clarity, transparency, and straightforwardness in all communications. Don’t leave content open to interpretation. By adhering to this principle, you ensure that your messages will land and enable swift comprehension and alignment across all stakeholders.

4. Not getting the word out

A robust comms strategy entails synchronized messaging across diverse channels such as social media, text, email, and other digital platforms, ensuring a comprehensive, cohesive approach.

Social media can play a huge part. Immediate updates and responses on platforms like X, Facebook, and LinkedIn are essential for addressing concerns promptly.

Text messaging and employee mobile app comms provide direct, personal avenues to reach stakeholders, conveying critical information efficiently. However, a comprehensive omnichannel approach extends beyond the digital sphere. Traditional media remains a potent force during crises, requiring coordinated efforts in press releases, interviews, and official statements. This seamless integration across both traditional and digital channels enhances the reach and impact of crisis communication.

5. Putting your people last

Placing employees last on the priority list is a misstep that can lead to severe consequences. Internal communication platforms are pivotal in ensuring employees feel valued, informed, and supported during tumultuous periods. One concrete action to underscore this importance is establishing a dedicated internal communication channel that provides timely updates, transparent information, and a platform for employee feedback. Acting on this feedback, whether through policy adjustments or addressing specific issues, demonstrates a commitment to a collaborative, responsive workplace culture.

Backing up this commitment involves proactive measures such as hosting virtual town hall meetings, where leadership can openly address concerns, share the company's strategy, and acknowledge the challenges faced by employees. Another action-oriented approach is to prioritize employee well-being by offering resources for mental health support. Providing access to counseling services, organizing wellness webinars, and checking in with employees on a regular basis all contribute to a supportive environment.


“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

This Andy Grove quote serves as a stark reminder that achieving success can inadvertently lead to a sense of complacency. Long periods of stability mean that communicators and leaders can neglect to plan for unforeseen challenges. This “paranoia,” or let’s call it a healthy level of vigilance, is not a harbinger of pessimism but a call to action—an insistence on being meticulously prepared for the unexpected.

Leadership and communications are the two words that rightly spring to mind in the context of crisis comms. During tough times, uncertainty permeates organizations, affecting everyone - customers, employees, and partners. And once this uncertainty reaches a certain level, it jeopardizes company culture, reputation, and overall productivity. Exceptional leaders navigate uncertainties with transparency, empathy, humanity, and a keen understanding that success is an ongoing journey. By acknowledging the severity of the situation, detailing the steps being taken, and expressing empathy for affected employees and customers, leaders demonstrate their candidness and show a commitment to confronting challenges head-on.

The result is that an organization not only survives but emerges stronger from the challenges it confronts.

So, embrace a proactive mindset. Gather good people around you. Expect a crisis to occur. Make success your catalyst for continuous improvement, not a precursor to complacency.

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