As the new year dawns upon us, we find it timely to take stock of the past year and reflect on the lessons learnt.
Our clients are no different; many of them ask for our feedback as part of their annual or periodic reviews. They seek improvements – from a reputation management and crisis communication perspective – on their drill performance and how incidents can be better managed.
Most of our clients are seasoned veterans in the maritime space, and they are no strangers to handling incidents big or small. If I had to be nit-picky, internal communication is perhaps one aspect of crisis management which is sometimes overlooked.
In the context of crises, effective internal communication means that all relevant staff – both ashore and at sea – are kept apprised of any given crisis and given clear unambiguous instructions on what to do and what not to do. Effective internal communication mitigates the risk of confusion and misinformation which may complicate matters for the overall incident response.
During a crisis, emergency response team (ERT) members may face a rapidly escalating workload rendering their resources unable to cope with time-sensitive demands from multiple stakeholders.
ERT members are thus forced to prioritise their attention and efforts on some tasks and place others on the back burner. Some may choose to prioritise their owners or charterers while others may focus on customers, the media or other stakeholders which they deem to be the most important. Internal audiences are too often overlooked.
Unsurprisingly, there have been instances where employees were totally unaware of the situation until they learnt about it from media reports or via the grapevine.
We note that some organisations do not even include internal communication protocols in their crisis plans. Indeed, some view internal communication as universal tacit knowledge and assume things will just fall into place on their own. It is perhaps convenient to assume that all employees will automatically understand what is happening and what they need to do, but this is not always the case.
Some organisations acknowledge the importance of internal communication, but do not have dedicated staff who are trained to perform such tasks. Instead, these tasks are delegated to other staff members who lack the ability or the bandwidth to do so.
At Navigate Response, we help our clients view internal communication as a critical element of the overall crisis response and help them build competency in it. These are some of the things we do:
- Periodic review of crisis communication plans: We work closely with our clients to fine-tune their crisis communication plans. Such plans should clearly articulate the roles and responsibilities of various teams, the key messages that need to be communicated, and the channels that will be used to communicate them.
- Establish and clarify communication protocol: We help our clients educate and familiarise their employees on what to do during a crisis, which channels to use and how to respond to requests from the media.
- Testing the internal communication process: Drills and exercises should not be confined to members of the ERT. We advise our clients to incorporate elements that test internal communication with various departments within the organisation. This builds competency and muscle memory which are invaluable during a real-life situation.
- Training: We conduct media and crisis communication training – both in-person and virtual – for all employee levels so that everyone knows what to expect during a crisis and how to communicate effectively to a wide range of internal and external stakeholders.