How many of us remember playing telephone as a child? The first child whispered a message to the next child and so on down the line of children. The message delivered at the end of the line turns out totally different from the original message sent. How clear are the crisis communication channels you plan to use? Would your crisis communications suffer the same fate as the children’s telephone game or is it delivered in a can-and-string delivery format? Think about your crisis communications action plan, if there is one.
Recently I witnessed communication that seemed to travel the children’s telephone game and sent via can-and-string format. The crisis event prompting these actions was the H1N1 response at a global corporation. I thought what happened there in terms of the communication to the external stakeholders (i.e. customers, media, stock holders) went fairly well, but the same could not be said of the internal communications.
When asked my opinion as a consultant, I indicated I had doubts they could plan a two-car funeral. (Those who know me would tell you that I don’t hold back when asked for my opinion or how to go about solving the problem.)
Fortunately, the company understood there were issues in the internal communications, and they worked feverishly to resolve them. Miscommunication and no communication are equally unacceptable and hazardous to response and/or recovery mechanisms at any size company.
The corporation changed their plan of action for all communication needs. The internal crisis communication plan has advanced to the point where they distribute situational reports on a regular basis. The group has also adopted an Incident Command System (ICS) type of structure for events, and maintain an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for global, regional, and local events.
Crisis communication must be planned in advance of any event. In the planning state, preapproved communication templates can be prepared and ready to go, thereby eliminating the telephone game results.
Do you exercise your crisis management and communication plans? If not, you might find your message going out as if it were on a child’s can-and-string telephone, with all its limitations.
During an actual event is not the time to determine if your communication mechanisms and technologies are current and operating correctly. Not only should the plan be updated on a regular basis, but it should also be regularly exercised. Those responsible and those responding should know if the message is legitimate or not and how to respond accordingly.
While we all enjoyed the canand- string telephone and children’s telephone game as kids, it would not be wise to allow our businesses to have a crisis communications plan with no more dependability than a child’s toy or game.
In the after-action reports on any event, there are generally issues brought up regarding communication. There is always room for improvement in this area – both internally and externally. Don’t be caught with the can-andstring and children’s telephone game during your next crisis event.
Lisa Smallwood, MBCP, MBCI, has been in the IT and business continuity industry for more than 20 years. She has a master’s in telecommunications management and a master’s in information management, both from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked in the manufacturing, insurance, transportation, banking, utility, and telecommunications industries. She is an independent consultant and the owner of Comprehensive Emergency Management Professionals. She is also a member of the DRJ Editorial Advisory Board.