What’s the role that employer branding can play during a crisis?
Maybe the answer isn’t immediately clear – it’s not the first thing we think about when we’re in a crisis as we have been conditioned to think of employer branding in terms of just recruitment marketing messages.
While most organizations naturally direct their energies and communications outward during crisis situations, more HR professionals and executives are coming to realize that communicating quickly, often and well with employee stakeholders is equally important, if not more so.
The truth is that a crisis can appear out of nowhere at any time, in todays social media world, it can happen fast, and it can have a serious impact on your brand, your reputation, your culture, and your bottom line.
When a crisis of any kind hits, it’s critical to act fast. Your PR, media, and executive communications teams are no doubt invaluable, but leaders often forget about one of the most important groups of people in a crisis, your employees.
This is the critical moment when employees can come together and stand behind their brand, behind their employee value proposition (EVP), and provide leadership, stability and support that will make all the difference. It can also be the critical moment when employees feel unacknowledged, excluded, or disillusioned. If not handled effectively, your employee trust can be damaged which you need to avoid at all costs when your organization is already under pressure.
Many executives and managers don’t realize how important their employees are in a crisis, especially in B2C and B2B business environments. Whatever your organization is going through is not only a brand and consumer crisis, but absolutely, no question about it, an employer brand crisis. Not only are your employees the people who are talking to your customers, they are also a critical factor in how successful you will, or won’t, be in moving on from the crisis. Like the rest of the external world, employees are critical. Their trust can easily be eroded, and they are watching, listening to, and sharing your response or lack thereof to the situation. If you do not have a plan for both communicating to, and rallying employees, you will not only be managing an external brand crisis, but an internal one that can have a far more lasting impact on your culture. The costs are often in the millions for these errors.
Not only do organizations require an internal communications plan to ensure that employees are aware, engaged and trusting, you need to lean on the power of the employer brand. What your employees are saying in conversations, with customers and vendors, friends and family, or over social media. What leaders don’t realize is that their employees, and their employer brand, can be one of their strongest assets in troubled times.
The best possible outcome is that your employees become your allies, and stand united behind the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) they all share.
To get your employees to rally, you should have internal brand ambassadors in place, and solicit feedback and input from your entire workforce. Asking employees how to work through this together will ensure that you and they are on the same side, united.
Your PR and internal communications teams both need to be using the EVP – referring to it, strengthening it, and living by it – this is their chance to show that your company walks the EVP talk. Unfortunately, we have seen many companies who huddle behind closed doors when disaster strikes and try to figure out what to do to cause less damage, not understanding that not communicating with and involving your employees in both the issue and the solution is adding fuel to the fire and escalating the issue.
Making decisions behind closed doors or citing employee error runs the risk of creating a great divide within your organization. Furthermore, your decisions may act as a catalyst for company wide walkouts and people distancing themselves from their work because they don’t see the company’s values and their own as one in the same.
When employees live and breathe the EVP, they give the company the benefit of the doubt and they want to help. Employees will rally behind the organization during the moment of crisis and can be your most important spokesperson.
Your time and energy invested in a strong, well-articulated EVP will pay off many times over when you’re in an organizational crisis – your EVP will become a tool – an actual platform from which to communicate and get your people aligned behind you.
We know how critically important an employer brand communications strategy is when you’re navigating troubled waters, and we’ve written about some of the best practices in employee communications during a crisis . What are your experiences with crisis management and employees? Let us know – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Top Recommendations for Managing Your Employer Brand During moments of Crisis:
- Leading organizations will start their communications with employees by going back to the EVP, as it reminds them of why they join and stay with the company. This is key messaging that leaders, and employees need to lean on during moments of crisis.
- Leaders will share transparently the challenges, mistakes and actions to correct the situation.
- Leaders should make in person meetings a priority to all levels of employees. Your face and voice are far more impactful than emails. Your physical presence is required immediately to establish trust.
- All levels of leadership need to communicate the same message of the EVP, the commitment to employees, company values and to resolving the issue and regaining trust.
- Leaders should establish employee task forces to help act as ambassadors. Encourage them to revisit in their own words and stories why they love the brand, why they believe in it. Their voices will have far more trust than a PR message alone during these times. Encourage them and help them to shape the message.
“Thanks to social media, what an employee says is heard by a lot of people.” Stacy Parker, Managing Director, Blu Ivy Group.
In an age when every employee can serve as a spokesperson, executing effective internal communications can help minimize damage to your brand, return your workforce to productivity and build trust among employees.
Failing to keep workers in the loop during moments of crisis comes at a high price. How leaders handle these situations will dictate how much faith employees, customers and partners will have in you, and how invested they will be in your future success.