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Communicating During A Crisis Takeaways

We kicked off our 2020 Employers Like Me Virtual Series with an important discussion on COVID-19 and Crisis Communications in your organization.  Our guest speakers were Ashley Bush of Southwire – Director of Communications and Employee Engagement, and Jamie Benton of Rollins – Director of Compensation and Benefits.

If you missed the live webinar, you can watch on-demand here:

Here are our Key Takeaways:

 

Takeaway: Defining Crisis in Your Organization

It’s important to understand how your organization defines a crisis and subsequently plans to activate a crisis response.  While not every challenge or situation will have the same level of urgency, it’s up to each individual organization to decide what constitutes a crisis for them, based on the potential it has to impact its employees, operation, and the company as a whole.

How an organization responds to a crisis can have a lasting impact on its employees, customers, stakeholders, and communities.

“What we have learned is that it is extremely important that we are proactive and not reactive when it comes to crisis communications” – Ashley Bush, Southwire

 

Southwire is a large global organization with over 7,000 employees.  When dealing with communications, their organization has to consider what’s happening on a global level at any point in time, and how it affects the company.

Because of this, Southwire has had a crisis communications team and a pandemic team for quite some time, and began monitoring COVID back in January.  By the time the pandemic made its way to the US, their cross-functional communications team was already consistently meeting and had enough knowledge to decide when to make the pivot from challenge, to crisis – making it necessary to activate all or parts of their crisis communication plan.

This decision involved 3 potential scenarios:

1) An employee being diagnosed with COVID-19

2) Government-mandated shutdowns in communities, thereby affecting operations

3) A significant disruption in the supply chain.

For Rollins, the company had a crisis response team which had typically planned for and responded to natural disasters.  They did not have a pandemic-specific response team and had to act quickly to put the necessary elements in place, in order to effectively respond to this crisis.

First, the organization determined that they were deemed an essential business on a state and national level.  Rollins is the world’s largest pest control company, with subsidiaries in more than 700 locations.

“The key that we had, was that all these businesses out there that we let run on their own, all of a sudden looked at the big corporate office and said, we need help, what do we do?”– Jamie Benton, Rollins

 

Second, they quickly put together a team of key stakeholders, to determine how to keep the business and employees safe, and how to keep the customers who need their business, feeling confident in Rollins to take care of their homes and personal properties.

 

Takeaway: Have a Crisis Team in Place Before a Crisis Occurs 

Southwire’s pandemic team started with a smaller, core group of people they deemed necessary to be there, no matter the circumstance; they then built that team out to accommodate this specific crisis.

This team was broken down into 4 Key Stakeholder Groups:

1)Employees

2)Customers/Suppliers

3)Community

4)Other Important Voices

Those key stakeholder groups were comprised of smaller groups of individuals i.e. HR, Operations, Support and Safety teams, Partners, Suppliers, Leaders, etc.

Because they had a crisis team in place, Southwire had been able to simulate how they would work through a potential crisis before it hit.

“We knew how we were going to work together and what the steps needed to be.  You’re never going to know exactly what the situation is going to be, or how you’re going to respond, but at least you’ve got a little bit of familiarity, a little bit of a cadence and a plan in place that you can activate and modify to meet the pandemic.” – Ashley Bush, Southwire

 

For Rollins, the first step was to get their senior leaders involved.  They put them in charge of the task force group made up of executives to oversee this pandemic response.

The next step was to figure out how best to communicate.

 

Takeaway: The Importance of Consistency and a Unifying Message

“We were slow to respond, but we quickly got all key stakeholders from HR, from Risk from Legal, from Procurement, etc. on our PPE and we set up a daily communication that’s still going on today to every employee in our company; we write it so that hopefully their families, their spouses can see it, with resources that can help them individually.”– Jamie Benton, Rollins

 

Rollins’ daily newsletter also contains important CDC information and other helpful health guidelines, as well as up to 3 customer success stories each day, highlighting different employees as a way to unify and boost morale.

“We’ve become in some ways better connected than we ever were before”– Ashley Bush, Southwire

 

At Southwire, employees that were able to work from home began working remotely, while employees needing to work on-site took preventative measures and followed updated safety protocols. Their remote teams have made good use of virtual tools like Teams, WebEx, and Zoom.

Southwire also has a daily email from Leadership that goes out to the entire company, covering updates on strategies and protocols, safety initiatives, health resources and videos, benefits, and any relevant and timely information.

They have also used their social platforms to boost morale amongst employees, designating the hashtag #uniteonesouthwire to highlight employees who are going the extra mile in their daily lives and in their communities and helping spread their unifying message.

Rollins’ daily newsletter is called the “Daily Digest,” and they’ve increased the frequency of messaging.  Every morning, this newsletter includes relevant information and resources for employees and families, health and safety information and protocols, as well as employee spotlights to recognize those employees getting great customer feedback and giving back in their communities.

 

Takeaway: Be Ready to Adapt and Evolve

As organizations big and small, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the pandemic thus far, it’s that circumstances are constantly evolving and it’s our obligation to continue to adapt and evolve.

We hope some of these takeaways are valuable to you and your organization as we navigate this road together.  On our next webinar in the series, we’ll be going in-depth into Telemedicine as it pertains to the virtual landscape and employees mental and physical health.