The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard about Incident Communications

By October 14, 2016 August 8th, 2018 Communications

Lessons from Ben

Benjamin Franklin was a great man who is known for his quotes and advice. Not only was he a founding father of our nation, but he launched the first library, the first hospital, and the first fire department. Those are but a few of his contributions to our society but even he understood the questionable value of advice from others when he said, “Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.”

Advice can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be highly beneficial. We often seek advice when we are struggling with a situation or want another perspective. On the other hand, we often detest advice when it’s given without requesting it, particularly when that advice is counter to what we think we know.

Ask 50 people for advice on virtually anything, personal or work-related, and you will likely receive 50 different suggestions. How should you roast a chicken? Just Google that one and see how many different sites pop up. I just did and a whopping 75,800,000 results are possible. “How should a company communicate with its employees?” The chicken just got cooked because nearly double the number of results were offered up. Astonishing.

If you’re looking for advice on employee communications, let’s narrow the search a bit to include those communications related to incidents where you need to get information to multiple employees. Now we’re talking about a mere 92 million search results.  

I’ll save you time by offering you some of the worst advice we’ve ever heard about incident communications and how to manage incidents when they happen. With millions of possibilities, we recognize this list is by no means exhaustive, but it does give those of you hoping to improve your incident communications a nice list of what NOT to do. Use this as a guide to ensure your emergency communications plan doesn’t fail when you need it most.

  1. It’s rare something “big” happens so don’t sweat it.
  2. Just trust whatever your company already has set up. It’s probably fine.
  3. When there is an incident, trust that your employees will know what to do and where to go.
  4. Call each employee to notify them of an incident.
  5. Just email employees.
  6. When there is an incident, don’t worry about content for the message; just get the message out the fastest way possible.
  7. Let your admin figure out how to contact employees.
  8. Once the message is sent, you’ve done your job so you can relax.

Incidents are “rare.”

This statement is just wrong. The 2015 Global Mobility Survey reported more than half of the organizations questioned experienced an “incident” at some point where their health and/or safety was at stake. If you don’t have an incident management plan in place, you should sweat it. Buckets. Why? Because things do happen. It doesn’t take a tornado, fire, or tropical storm to impact daily operations. Power and IT outages, machinery breakdowns, cyber security breaches, product recalls, and the like are all modern threats that can and do happen quite a bit.

How do you communicate with those employees who might be impacted by these incidents? You need a system in place to reach them where they are most likely to be. This may be at a desk in an office, in an 18-wheeler two states away, or in an airport on the other side of the globe. You need a system that will enable you to use all channels available, simultaneously, to get your message to the intended recipients. That means phone, email, text, app push, and social media.

Trust whatever your company is using.

Not all companies take the time to update their plans when new technologies are made available. Many communication plans still have public address systems as the primary mode of communicating during an “incident.” While this may suffice if you work at a big-box store, it’s not exactly sufficient if your workforce is geographically dispersed.

Whether you are a business leader or an entry-level employee, it is your right to know how your company plans to communicate with you during a critical event. Ask questions and don’t settle for outdated communication channels. In an emergency or event that will impact your ability to work, you want to know you won’t be the last to know.

Trust employees will know what to do.

This bit of advice is just plain scary. The truth is, most employees have no idea what to do and are depending on the company and/or first responders to know what to do. Even if a plan is in place, nearly 60 percent of American adults say they have never practiced what to do in a disaster at work, school, or home in the past year.

It’s up to the company to set the guidelines, procedures, and protocol for employees to follow if and when any incident occurs. Communication during these events is critical and can not only save dollars, assets, resources, and the bottom line, but can save lives. Put a plan in place, invest in incident communication software, and practice.

Call employees.

Sure, a phone call can be an effective mode of communication during an incident. But how many of your employees are near a phone? How long will it take you to call every employee? How many will recognize the number on the caller ID? How many will listen to voicemail? Voicemail retrieval continues to drop as people often prefer quicker messaging via texting and apps.

If you use voice calling to communicate during an incident, at least combine it with other communication channels. Integrating phone with texts, push notifications, and social media will reach far more employees than phone alone. Just think if E.T. had more than a phone to call home. He would have gotten home a whole lot faster if he texted his parents and posted his location on social media. Just sayin’.

Email employees.

Just as the phone has its limitations, so does email. Not everyone checks email regularly and even fewer respond to emails. Email has an open rate of only 20 percent. Are you willing to risk 80 percent of your employees never getting your message? If it’s an operations issue, how much lost productivity would that equal? If it’s an emergency issue, how many lives could that potentially impact? Twenty percent isn’t good enough.

Now, when email is combined with other forms of communication, your open rate skyrockets. If texts have a 98 percent open rate and push notification open rates can be as high as 40 percent, you’re already doing pretty darned well, even without phone, email, or social media even being considered.

Speed of delivery trumps quality of message.

Messaging matters, especially during a critical event. The worst thing a company could do would be to mass communicate the wrong information, erroneous instructions, or false reports, then have to send apology messaging with the correct information. Not only do you lose credibility, but time – time where seconds may count.

Take time to craft the message. If possible, use software that enables you to pre-write and record instructions and save as templates. Consider what it might be like to receive the message and be cognizant of what you would want to be told in each incident. You don’t want people to panic, feel uninformed, or to ignore the message. Be sure you have your facts right and then get the message out there.

Leave it up to the admin.

Ahh, the poor admin. Quite a bit is often dumped onto their laps. With so much to manage, admins shouldn’t be expected to be the only mouthpiece of the company during a critical event, particularly if they aren’t equipped with the right technology to relay messaging effectively.

If you do decide to give your admin the incident communication responsibility, for the love of rainbows, give him or her the software they need to do it well. Integrating purpose-built software designed specifically to simplify mass communications into the process will ensure whoever is responsible for implementing the system can get the right message out to the right people across all of the right channels quickly.

Send the message and relax.

Once the message is sent, it’s no time to rest on your laurels. Employees may be able to provide valuable feedback and eyewitness accounts of what is actually happening. If they don’t have a way to respond to notifications, you may miss out on actionable intel. Your incident communication system needs to provide two-way communication so every voice can be heard.

It’s also a good idea to measure the effectiveness of the communications. After an incident. you want to know who received the messaging and which channels were most effective. Incident communications software will have built-in reporting and tracking mechanisms that will help organizations make better decisions when it comes to emergency plans.

Whether you consider yourself wise or a fool, take our advice and check out incident communication software for your organization. Again, Ben Franklin said it best, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Invest in technology that gives you the best opportunity to succeed.

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