Here are five ways these internal leaders can work together during and after a firestorm.
Meet together and form a quick response team. If an organization doesn’t have a crisis communication game plan, now is the time to create it. If there is one, review it to ensure it covers contingencies for each situation, particularly if there are diversity and inclusion implications. The two biggest mistakes leaders can make in a crisis are not including the diversity leader in the conversation and leaving managers to blow in the wind. Include PR as the fourth leg of the stool. Discuss both the internal and external impact. Decide on an approach. To the extent possible, address internal questions, frustrations and anxiety. This must be done in a transparent, honest way. Covering up, hiding or running from information will only add to the confusion and the inevitable fallout.
Equip executives and managers with talking points so they are not caught off guard, trying to navigate potential fallout in a vacuum. Timing is critically important. The longer managers and employees are left without information, the more time they have to read blogs, tweet and to fill the communication void with gossip, rumor and innuendo. Rather than email talking points, deliver them via a webinar or teleconference. Also provide a document of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and proposed answers. Ensure that managers understand the organization’s reason behind the public stand or comments and can explain it in a neutral tone. HR and the diversity leader should work together to create the FAQ and responses.
Update internal websites and social media with information, news and talking points that mirror the words executives and managers are repeating. To the extent possible, executives should hold an “all hands” meeting to explain the basis for the comment and reassure employees of the commitment to valuing everyone. If corrective action is taken against the person making the comment, that also should be explained. Keep the communication flowing both up and down the organization. The president or an executive should be available for ongoing internal blogs or emails. Before answers to questions or comments are made, the diversity leader should be consulted to ensure answers are inclusive and respectful. The HR and diversity and inclusion team should be deployed to support managers as they cascade the information throughout the workforce.
After the initial hit, the diversity leader must play a major role in working with executives to review and refine the organization’s culture, values and subsequent behaviors. These things should be aligned with characteristics in the employee base the organization wants to attract and retain as well as those in the marketplace base that are necessary to sustain the organization’s financial health. The employee handbook or contract also should be reviewed and reinforced, but this assessment is more than a policy matter.
Conduct a post-mortem to review and revise the plan and consider how to ensure the message of diversity and inclusion is a continuous and sustainable part of the culture, values and behaviors. Executives and managers should be equipped to discuss diversity and inclusion topics as a regular part of business communication — not just during a PR firestorm.
Linda Stokes is president and CEO of PRISM International Inc., a global diversity and inclusion consulting and training firm. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.