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5 key steps to communicate in a crisis

Communication is key and the more you prepare in advance, the more effective you will be.

There are 5 key steps for communicating at the time of a crisis:

1) Ensure that any information and communication comes from the top of the organisation or you. To reassure people you need to demonstrate that you are present, in control and you have a plan to minimise any disruption.
2) Make sure you have a plan in place that is simple, clear and flexible, identifying any possible scenarios and anticipating any response, action and communication required.
3) Take action – be proactive and prepare as much as possible for potential situations.
4) Early and continuous communicating with all the key individuals, groups and organisations that have an interest in your organisation and the situation. (Download our Free Stakeholder Mapping Tool)
5) People come first. Always address the needs of those most affected by the incident first.

Did you know? 80% of effective crisis management is in the planning rather than the actual response.

Lucy Rennie

What does this mean for your small business?

What can you do today to prepare as much as possible?

    • Write down a list of the worst-case scenarios eg. Reduced staff numbers, office closure, trying to think about all the different situations that could arise and map out how this could impact your organisation.
    • Identify those individuals, groups or organisations that will need to be kept informed of the situation and with whom, 2-way communication will be key.

(Download our free Stakeholder Mapping Tool)

  • Make sure you have an up-to-date list of their contact information such as email addresses or telephone numbers.
  • Think about what is important to them and how they could be impacted by the different scenarios or actions and how you can best prepare for and maintain minimal disruption. Eg. If your production line were to slow down or stop, or if your staff becomes sick or need to work remotely – how would this impact your customers?
  • Look at the different channels for communication and decide which would be the most appropriate for each contact. Remember individuals are all different and react in different ways so make sure you take that into account when choosing the right channel. Do you need to just update them and provide them with key information or would a telephone call or Zoom call be more appropriate so that you can discuss the situation together and be able to listen to their concerns or needs and reassure them?
  • Start to communicate with each one as soon as possible, inform them of the potential risks and how they could be affected. Listen to their concerns and requirements and ensure that you have done everything you can at this time and let them know that you will update them regularly and when necessary.
    Reassuring them that you have a plan and that you will be doing everything possible to minimise the impact of the situation.
  • Create a simple and flexible plan that identifies the different steps that you need to take to ensure that you communicate clearly and timely with the relevant individuals and groups.
  • Ensure that you plan regular reviews and updates, continuously monitoring the situation.

Your team or staff.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate – informing, sharing, listening and then feeding back continually. (not just top down – listen to what people are saying, their needs, the noise off the street so that you can react accordingly and manage the situation).
  • Depending on the size of your business, find the most appropriate way to communicate with all of your staff and let them know that you are aware of what is happening and you are taking the appropriate steps to minimise the risk to them and the business.
  • Inform them of any key actions or possible scenarios that may occur and how they can help to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible. Eg. What will happen if there is a need for self-isolating or sick leave, remote working or a drop in business due to a lack of supplies. Ask them for their input, thoughts or concerns.
  • Explain to them that you are monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis and will adjust your actions accordingly.
  • Inform them and ask them to follow the guidance and what they need to do if they feel unwell or become infected. Provide them with as much information as possible – see guidance here from the UK government.
  • Communicate the next steps that you have outlined in your plan should you be faced with any of the situations or scenarios listed above.
  • Define and share the channels chosen for communication between you and them such as: face to face, telephone, email, Whatsapp or other so that they know what to keep an eye on and how to get in touch with you or another member of your team.

Don’t forget that how well you manage the situation can also be seen as an opportunity to grow and enhance your reputation if you can:

  • Do what you do best, look after your staff and your key customers / other interested parties.
  • Demonstrate how effectively you manage your organisation and how resilient and solid your business is.
  • Strengthen relations with your key contacts, individuals and groups. Having regular contact, listening to their needs and providing as much value as possible and helping them to manage their requirements, will all work towards allowing you to build more trust and loyalty.
  • Take things online – making the shift early from offline and face to face or group meetings to as much online communication as possible with your key contacts will not only allow them to get used to such channels, but it will also save you unnecessary travel time and costs.
  • This could be a shift that becomes more long term even once the crisis has passed. There are lots of options and tools out there, we prefer to use ZOOM.
  • Stand out from the crowd by communicating clearly and effectively and therefore managing your key stakeholders’ expectations as best you can and avoiding frustrations, let downs or disappointment.
  • Support other business owners, collaborate and communicate and grow your reputation and network.

Other things to think about:

  • Business finance, HR and continuity – get in touch as soon as you can with your accountant or other relevant parties and seek advice / discuss and plan for how you can minimise any possible threat to your organisation, such as cashflow or the procurement of essential supplies.
  • Check your sick pay policy or absenteeism due to childcare (how you will you manage this if the government decide to close all schools?)
  • Remote working – think about what you would need to put this in place and for this to happen as smoothly as possible? Eg; laptops / mobile devices / wifi / security / server access / communication tools.
  • Closing the office or business premises – forwarding your landline to a mobile device, any post, visitor signposting or ensuring the security and safeguarding of the site during your absence.


Effective communication isn't rocket science.

By taking the time to prepare properly, to think about possible risks and scenarios and to identify your key stakeholders (key individuals, groups or organisations who have an interest in your business), you will be able to manage the incident or crisis more effectively and therefore minimise the impact on your own organisation. Remember there are no right or wrong answers or solutions to managing a crisis, however careful preparation, planning and communicating in the right way to the right people will help you to keep control and minimise disruption.