A model for employee comms in a crisis

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

How does an organisation recover its reputation after a crisis? Research by the Ipsos MORI Reputation Centre has just been released and I was delighted to be asked along to join a panel discussion, particularly with our CIPR Crisis Communication Diploma about to start. So what did we learn?

The research was done among MPs (129 of them) and business and financial journalists (88 of them) so pretty well informed groups (it might be interesting to see if a wider public sample produced the same results).

For me, two things came through strongly: trust and the need to have “credit in the reputation bank”. One thing that didn’t come through so strongly was the role that employees play so when I spoke, this is the angle that I took, borrowing shamelessly from Kevin Ruck’s work on employee advocacy which has come out of his PhD research.

The recent Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that respondents are increasingly reliant on a “person like yourself”, who, along with regular employees, are significantly more trusted than a CEO or government official.

However, as Kevin highlighted in his blog on advocacy, there is a danger if organisations start to manage advocacy, for example by supplying social media soundbites for employees to share. This simply isn’t authentic and will be seen through straight away.

The Ipsos MORI research says that building reputation resilience takes time. One journalist respondent said: “If you’ve got a long term relationship with a company or the people that work there, then it’s about ‘OK, we’ve messed up but here is what we are doing’. Obviously we build trust faster than with some random guy who hasn’t actually taken the time to meet you or ever have a conversation with you who’s now pleading with you to trust him.”

Well, it is just the same with employees, building advocacy takes time. Kevin’s AVID model explains how to do it and I think can also help us understand how to run employee comms in a time of crisis.

The “I” in the AVID model is identification, this means employees identifying with the organisation’s plans for the future. Employees know that their job security depends on it and I would argue that this is never more acute than in a time of crisis. So organisations must make sure they have someone on point to look after employee comms alongside other stakeholder groups.

The “A” is about alignment which means line managers helping employees to align their work to the corporate strategy. In times of crisis this can mean discussing how the team is going to contribute to the recovery.

The “V” for voice and the “D” for dialogue are about giving employees the opportunity to have a say in what goes on and having conversations about ideas and solutions, surely of tremendous value in helping the organisation to get back on track. And who knows, if that was in place already maybe that crisis would never have happened.

For more on crisis comms check out the blogs from Chris who leads our Crisis Comms Diploma.

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