Nearly 30 percent of the respondents to a recent poll about crisis management believe that employees may be the most overlooked stakeholder when their organization is dealing with a crisis. As crises become a more frequent occurrence, executives need to acknowledge that maximizing the potential resources of their employees may have a significant impact on their ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to an incident, according to Deloitte’s report.


Employees are a valuable asset to an organization at all times, but especially when dealing with customers and aiding the company in the overall recovery process after a crisis. To create a good crisis response plan, organizations should proactively take steps to outline employees’ roles, responsibilities and the critical part they play in successful crisis management. Companies must also have a documented plan to provide accurate, up-to-date and authoritative information during the crisis, says Rhoda Woo, principal in Deloitte Advisory strategic risk services, Deloitte & Touche LLP, and national leader for crisis management solutions.


“When a crisis arises in an organization, it can be extremely chaotic. Responding to the crisis and coordinating with regulators, law enforcement and customers is imperative, but leadership must also have a plan to inform and utilize employees,” says Woo. “Employees need to be recognized and informed in a reasonable timeframe during a crisis, but companies also need to consider human factors. There may be instances where employees may not be willing or able to help.”


The Deloitte report offers a number of suggestions detailing how an organization can better make use of its employees during a crisis. One key step is to build a culture of trust and confidence to set the solid foundation required to maintain an honest and open relationship between employees and the organization, according to Deloitte. Having a culture that promotes transparency empowers employees to escalate issues and encourages communication.


It’s also vital to challenge assumptions about availability, according to Deloitte. For example, if a contingency plan relies on employees showing up to work, then it’s important for everyone to understand the types of crises in which they are likely or unlikely to report to the office.


As Woo explains, it’s also imperative for employees to be informed—and stay informed—during a crisis. That means companies must communicate accurate information early and often to best manage misperceptions and misinformation. Furthermore, executives must give authoritative direction on the risks involved, the impact on the company and the staff, and instructions on how to move forward.


Finally, executives should remember that the organization needs to provide continuing support, and leaders must demonstrate empathy. If remote access is part of the contingency plan, then managers and executives must ensure that employees are taking home the necessary equipment each day. However, as the report explains, management must also consider employees’ requirements for medical, psychological and logistical support when it’s time to return to the workplace—and those requirements must be included in the organization’s response plan.


Frankly, I’m a little surprised that only 30 percent of the survey respondents cited employees as the most overlooked stakeholder during a crisis. On the other hand, when asked how well equipped the organization is to handle a crisis, only 16 percent said their organization invests in planning and prevention, and processes and tools are tested and effective. All of which shows that there is much room for improvement when it comes to crisis management plans.


What about your organization? Do you think it is adequately prepared to manage a crisis?