What Leaders Need to Know: Importance of Effective Communication During a Crisis

By Heather Campbell

Getting internal communication right is important for every organisation. During a crisis, its importance rockets.

And yet this is a time when leaders fall foul of the most obvious mistakes.

Perhaps you’ve already learned some painful lessons from your own experiences. Or maybe you wonder how you’d react should the worst happen.

You shouldn’t feel alone in this. No leader finds it easy to get internal communication right when so much around them seems to be going wrong.

To help you avoid the worst errors, however, here are the three tips I most often share when working with organisations during a crisis.

 Stay visible

It can be tempting for leaders to distance themselves from people during a crisis.

Sometimes this is due to fear of saying the wrong thing, other times it’s because the leaders themselves are in a panic or are trying to work out what actions to take to resolve the crisis.

The problem is – whatever the reason – employees experience silence at the very time they most need information and direction. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, employees abhor silence from their leaders.

That’s why it’s so important for leaders to be present, visible, and engaged. Get out and about; talklisten and make yourself available for questions and support.

Remember: other media will move quickly

A crisis is not the time to “dot the i’s” and “cross the t’s” before you start communicating with your people. If you do, other media will become their information source instead.

For high profile organisations especially, formal media such as television news and daily newspapers can be a significant problem.

Journalists move so quickly that they leave leaders gasping for breath in their wake. And let’s face it, the formal media’s role is not to provide meaningful information for those right at the centre of the crisis – your employees.

And of course, the rise of informal, online networks such as Twitter and Facebook can beat even the formal media hands-down for speed. Again, these sources are not focussed on providing the accurate information that your people need.

For Unionised environments, Union communications can quickly replace information from leaders and when leaders don’t communicate, the grapevine becomes a rapid, misleading, fear-mongering information source too.

So, share the truth and share it quickly.

If you’re wondering how to get news out across a large organisation at a pace that will out-strip the media in all its guises, check out my blog.

Be honest

Avoid putting a positive spin on your communications during a crisis. Crafting the ‘spin’ wastes time, which you don’t have, and people see through it. This builds lack of trust, not just during crisis but afterwards too when you are trying to get back to business as usual.

I recently asked people in one of our client organisations what was most important for them to hear when a crisis arose. Here’s what they said about the importance of honesty:

“Give us an authentic message. When a message is crafted too carefully, it loses spirit and meaning. We want the unvarnished truth”


Communication during a crisis moves to a new level of importance and yet this is a time when leaders can find it most difficult to get it right. These three top tips will help you stay on track – keep them to hand for those tough times when you may be tempted to push communication with your people to the bottom of your agenda:

  • Stay visible
  • Remember: other media will move quickly
  • Be honest
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