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Three simple steps for communication during a crisis

Communication is a central theme of many of our tips – from promoting diversity and inclusion, to supporting employees through the COVID crisis. However, we’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about on how to communicate effectively.

Effective communication is a complex discipline that takes time and effort to master. However, there are a few simple tricks everyone can use now to improve communication especially through times of uncertainty and anxiety.

1. Plan

Before sending out the first communication take some time to plan. What information must be conveyed? To whom? What do you want the recipients to do with the information? When do you want them to do something?

For larger, more complex information, such as all the different facets of the COVID response, break it down into small pieces and organize it such as by topic and/or intended recipients.

Prioritize each piece of information by importance and time – if the recipient only reads one thing right now, what must it be? What about two things, or tomorrow?

Once you have the information planned and organized, it’s time for step two.

2. Draft

Important messages must be simple, clear, and have an obvious next step or action. Messages that are too long, complex, or convoluted will just cause confusion, a sense of being overwhelmed, or will just be ignored. News apps and ‘click bate’ are a great model to use when drafting messaging.

Subject: What it is, who it’s for, and deadlines

Example: DEADLINE May 1 - COVID benefit changes for those who have family members on the PPO plan

First paragraph: Short description of what will be covered, the call to action, and deadlines.

Example: There have been 5 changes to our PPO plan due to COVID that effects family members of employees. Family members will now have an additional preventative coverage and deductibles have been reduced by up to $600 per person per quarter. If you are on the PPO A plan and have dependents, you must fill out form B2 by 2:00 pm CST May 1. Below are the details of the form and the impact to your coverage.

Note: include links to the content (such as additional information for the PPO A plan) and the call to action (such as the Form B 2).

Second paragraph: (if required) help recipients identify if they are impacted

Example: If you are unsure if you have the PPO A plan, click here or contact

Content body: Details. Include what it is, who’s impacted, when, and what they must do. Use techniques such as:

  • Start with the most important piece of information up front (by paragraph and by section).

  • Use bullets or number lists when covering multiple items.

  • Use short-form paragraphs that are easier to scan and read (vs. large blocks of text).

  • Provide links to more information wherever appropriate.

Final paragraph: Repeat call to action

Example: To activate the new benefits, fill out Form B2 by 2:00 pm CST May 1.

3. Release

Once the communications are planned and drafted, identify when and how to release them.

Choose formats that are most accessible for the range of your employees. If appropriate, use multiple formats to get the message out. Formats could include emails, self-service websites, messages on collaboration platforms (Slack, Microsoft Teams), social media messages, texts, webinars, live video calls, etc.

Optimize the message for each format. You don’t need to include all content in every format. For example, for texts, chat messages, and social media formats, use the subject and a link so employees can get more information.

Communications should be frequent enough that employees get everything they need, but not so frequent that it feels like they are getting inundated. Messages will also have to be repeated to ensure they are absorbed with the higher priority items repeated most frequently.

If there is too much information to convey, use a table-of-contents approach (much like a newsletter or news app). Have a single communication a day with a list of items. Use the subject line, along with one or two sentences to answer the high level: what, who, when, action. Then link each to more information.

Bringing it all together

Effective communication plans are empowering, not overwhelming. They will leave your employees feeling like they know what they need to do, when to do it, and why. Planning and organizing the messages will keep it from feeling haphazard and overwhelming. Drafting the message will keep it concise and easy to follow. Releasing the information frequently, in the right format and at the right time, will increase the chances that your employees will receive, understand, and take the right actions.

During COVID and any other major event, a little communication strategy can go a long way in empowering and supporting your employees.

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