When Employees Behave Badly:
The Importance of a Crisis Communications Plan

You’re a serious business owner who takes your brand seriously. Very seriously. You hire the best employees your budget can afford, you train them on your business values and ethics, and constantly reinforce what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior when they represent you and your company.

But what happens when those who are representing your business brand misbehave?

The hard truth is that when your employees behave badly, it’s only a small reflection on them; it’s a greater reflection on your business.
When things go wrong, people don't say your employee is terrible; they say your whole business is terrible!

Let’s say a customer calls your business with a complaint, and rather than providing the exceptional customer service you taught your employee to provide during their new employee training, they go off script.

They end up engaging in a heated interaction with the customer, using some choice words and even a few jaw-dropping insults. Then, the bad news gets worse: the customer recorded the whole thing.

In another example, let’s say that one of your employees was updating the office’s technology and forgot to re-activate the computer security firewall before leaving the office for the day. Overnight, pirates hacked into your computer systems and steal your clients’ credit card numbers, and they leak the success of their heist to the media.

All of a sudden, your business name – not the employee’s name – is all over social media. In typical cancel culture fashion, people begin chiming in with comments about how you don’t deserve to be in business, and they demand a nationwide boycott. Because of your employee’s behavior, the future of your business is now on the line.

In preparation for times like these, which occur all too often, you need to have a crisis communications plan in place. If you are a business owner and have to ask, “What is a crisis communications plan?” you’re already behind. If a crisis hits you tomorrow, you’ll find yourself running all over the place as you try to manage the mess, frantically trying to figure out how to not let the crisis take you under.

A crisis communications plan is a plan for how you will quickly respond when a crisis occurs in your business. What is meant by the term “crisis” is relative. For example, a crisis that casts your business in a negative light because of a product or service-related issue is different from a severe crisis like a death that is caused by your business’ negligence.

Regardless of the level of severity, crisis communications is a critical part of managing the negative situation and ensuring that when it’s all said and done, your business survives.

The purpose of a crisis communications plan is to provide both the people you serve and the larger community with information that addresses three primary questions:
“What really happened, and when?”
“How does the crisis affect me, if at all?”
“What is the business doing to remedy or atone for the damage caused by the situation, and how will you prevent it from happening again?”

Be quick.
As soon as the situation hits the fan, start communicating. This is why it is important to have a crisis communications plan already in place in anticipation of such mishaps occurring. You’ll need to allow as much space as possible between the negative messaging people receive from the media and the positive messaging you offer through your crisis communications plan. The longer the space between the two, the larger you allow the negative perceptions to grow, and the harder it is to replace them with positive feelings.

Be confident.
In order to reassure your customers and the community that, despite the situation, you have a crisis management process in place and everything is under control, you must come off as confident. If you appear – whether in video or in written communications – assured, controlled and convinced that what has happened can be remedied, this will engender confidence in them.

Be targeted.
Don’t expect to send the same messaging to all of your audiences; you’ll need to tailor your message to each. In the days that follow the crisis, communicate the loudest and most frequently with those who are threatened or affected by the situation the most. Then, consider all of the other audiences, namely your potential customers, partners, affiliates and board members whose perceptions about you might have been affected by the crisis. Finally, consider the news media and the community (whether local or national) as a whole and script messages specifically to them that will renew their respect and confidence in your business. Be sure to communicate how you will handle the situation so they will know that you are proactively addressing it.

Be transparent.
A cover up is always worse than the truth. You might think that if you try to cover up your employees’ bad behavior, but in this day and age of social media, computer hacking, and whistleblowing, inevitably, people will discover the truth. Better for them to hear the truth from you, accompanied by an apology and a plan for how you will mitigate the damage that occurred, than to later hear that you deliberately misled them with a lie.

Be proactive.
Somewhere in your business’ systems manual, whether print or electronic, you should be able to put your hands on a crisis communications plan that you proactively developed to manage crises. Your plan should have clear protocols (who should be notified when), procedures, contingencies based on the type or level of crisis, and even sample scripts and official statements that are tailored to the types of potential crises your business might encounter. Then, when crisis hits, all you’ll need to do is tweak the plan and execute it.

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