Charity Begins at Home: The Value of Leading with Internal Communications
A group of healthcare system senior leaders sit around a conference room table, mapping out their response to a prickly situation. Their talking points are clear. They’ve checked and double-checked their facts. All of the most likely questions have been debated, yielding well-crafted, compelling responses.
A list of the critical audiences is quickly spun up based on the usual suspects: the media, board members, social media sites, the local industry association and a more comprehensive leadership group (including physicians). Satisfied that another crisis has been averted, everyone departs. Mission accomplished.
But is it?
Arguably the most important audience of all has been left out of the loop – employees. If electronic and print media are covering the issue that brought the leadership team together in the first place, employees will get an earful when they tune in to the news or check their news feeds. So will their friends, neighbors and associates. They will turn to the most accessible, and credible, source they know for the truth: your employees.
How will they respond?
Making the assumption that employees somehow know what has happened and what they should say if (when) questioned by others leaves a lot to be desired. Employees who are focused on their duties and their immediate circle of colleagues will probably not have all of the facts. Without being included in the communications plan as a first wave for information, there is no way to ensure employees will know exactly what is going on, what to say, when to say it, and most importantly, when to defer to an official spokesperson.
This doesn’t mean taking every employee into a deep dive of detail and scripting. It’s as simple as covering five basic steps:
- Immediately make employees aware of the situation. Use your organization’s standard communication channel for rapid message delivery – intranet, email, etc.
- Explain why this is important and what leadership is doing about it. Share your intended public statement so they are armed with identical language.
- Make the commitment to keep employees informed of developments as they occur. This identifies your internal communications process as the best source for accurate information.
- Cascade your key points via an elevator speech to middle managers just prior to a full-scale employee communication. Most employees will turn to their managers for information. Make sure they know how to respond.
- Remind employees of your policy regarding contact with the media and provide a resource for redirecting those inquiries.
Employees are organizational ambassadors. Whether they are speaking in the supermarket checkout line or engaged in casual conversations at a birthday party, they become much more than people who happen to work for the organization in the spotlight. They are seen as having first-hand, inside information, making them credible sources of the truth. Those who equip their employees with enough basic information to navigate casual inquiries are ahead of the game.
We invite you to participate in our national internal communications research by filling out this short, five-minute survey. Your input will help us understand how healthcare organizations are engaging with their most important audience—their employees.
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