In marketing, we focus a lot of our efforts on communication. We communicate with our clients, the media, and the public. But one area is sometimes overlooked: communicating internally.
Recently, the University of Michigan had a bit of a slip up (and that’s putting it nicely) when they placed their quarterback back into the game against Minnesota after receiving a “probable mild” concussion on a previous play.
To make things worse, once the media was finally addressed about this issue several days later, Michigan released multiple, conflicting statements from different people within the athletic department.
Watching all of this was very similar to watching a horror movie—the kind where you shout at the person on screen to not go into the scary garage with chainsaws hanging from the rafters, but they do it anyway. In this situation, Michigan could have handled the situation much better by putting emphasis on internal communication and by not going into the scary garage.
What Michigan Should’ve Done
The trick in a crisis situation is to address the media and all parties involved as quickly as possible, but to go to them with a single, unified message. Initially you may not have much of a message to give, but it should be a unified one nonetheless. And you won’t have a cohesive message unless you talk amongst yourselves and get everyone on the same page. In Michigan’s situation, the head coach, the medical staff, the athletic director, and the player should have all met together before the media was addressed. And it was probably in their best interest to have done this as soon as the game was over—not three days later.
Whether it’s through phone trees, mass emails, or something in between (for example, a company intranet specifically set up for times of crisis), your company should have a way to contact each other in times of stress or crisis. The media is sure to have a lot of questions, and your colleagues will most likely have some as well. Confusion will only result in unorganized messages that further muddy the already murky waters, as well as hurting both your image and credibility.
Don’t Wait for the Crisis to Come to You
Organizations should also have a refresher course every once in a while on how to communicate internally during times of crisis or uncertainty. Identify communication leaders, and how information will be communicated. This is where you set out your game plan on who will be the playmakers when a crisis happens, and who will be the supporting offensive line. You may also need to touch on social media practices during time of disruption—whether it’s okay for employees to tweet about the issues, or who will be posting from the company account. Policies and roles often change, so it’s important to stay on top of who you need to talk to.
At the end of the day, teams are only successful if they work together. If everyone is on a different page of the playbook, you can be certain you will lose the game. Take the time to communicate internally before you start to speak out. It will be the smartest move you make all season.