How Employee Engagement could Make or Break your Company in Crisis

From major product recalls to technical systems failures, from Brexit to critical safety issues, the fitness of all organisations to respond is put to the test when crisis management is required.


When a situation breaks, the Communications Director is on the frontline managing an increasingly complex number of stakeholders; media, shareholders, suppliers, partners and customers. The objective is to protect the brand and organization while keeping the media coverage to a minimum and stakeholders informed and placated.


However, while every Communications Director will ensure their company has a Crisis and Issues plan prepared in advance, one key stakeholder group is too often forgotten: your employees. They can be your saviour in such a situation, available to call upon as well-informed brand ambassadors and corporate advocates, OR they can be your bête noire if ignored. Of course when you are in crisis mode you have to prioritise, but if you wait to engage the broader employee base until the fire-fighting has subsided, it might be too late.


We know that most employees need to feel part of a holistic system, to be engaged with the wider purpose of the organisation. So if they are getting their updates from social media, feeling powerless to respond and sensing themselves on the periphery of the organisation, they will not only feel confused and demotivated, but could also present an immediate risk and a longer term weakness. A recent survey showed strongly that if employees no longer believe in their company, or that they can successfully uphold the brand or reputation, they are likely to start looking elsewhere (Gallup Survey 2017) and this effect is amplified in times of crisis.


The implications of this are borne out in difficult experience. Whatever the sector or industry, the Communications Directors and Internal Communications Directors we have worked with, who have faced such situations, all say the same – the one thing they would do differently next time is to ensure that all employees accompany the senior team managing the situation in unison.


At Innovation Arts, when we talk about Employee Engagement, we are not talking about the measure of employee morale previously known as ‘job satisfaction’. Rather, we are talking about actively engaging the organisation collaboratively in the aspirations, ambitions, trials and successes of the wider company. And we believe that your crisis handling should mirror the way you engage your organisation on a day to day basis, and around important initiatives – just in a more focused and intensive way commensurate with the urgency of the situation.


So if you were to come to us looking to put a crisis plan in place that engages your employees effectively, our first question to you would be, what is your internal engagement process OUTSIDE of a crisis situation? Don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, you’re certainly not alone. And it could well be that planning for a crisis situation provides the impetus you need to develop a broader employee engagement mechanism to support your business. We would always recommend putting this plan in place BEFORE you need it! The next question, then, is how to go about designing a plan that will actually be used, and used effectively?


Innovation Arts believes that more voices cut down on noise, which is another way of saying that by involving all critical stakeholders in creating the plan they will be expected to deploy, their ownership of the plan not only makes it more effective and reduces resistance but also devolves the leadership required in rapid-response situations.


The number of critical stakeholders we suggest you involve in creating your plan can vary between 12 and 100 depending the size and complexity of your organisation, and this in turn will guide the time investment required to collaborate and align on your Internal Engagement plan. Depending on your needs we will recommend between one and three days of intensive work in a DesignSession for exponential results.


Typical questions you might want to answer in such a DesignSession include:


By using Design Thinking and Collaborative methodologies in this process, the outcome will be more robust. From Framing of how a crisis situation might occur in your organisation to Architecting around different plausible scenarios and Building an employee engagement plan which is aligned across stakeholder groups.


All our DesignSessions are bespoke, co-designed with you and every one starts with a simple conversation about the opportunity to collaborate. Click here to contact us to discuss how engaging your employees could be the secret ingredient to success.


Innovation Arts is a hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency. Innovation Arts brings a fresh and highly effective approach to stimulating ‘group genius’ through design practices that stretch people’s thinking and initiate ideas. 
Described by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, the Innovation Arts team is a mixture of strategists, management consultants, designers, advertisers, branding and communications experts and artists, all skilled in helping organisations make change happen. It’s a unique blend that helps an organisation think differently about the challenges it’s facing, as well as address them.
Based on their experience of working repeatedly with some of the leading FTSE100 and Fortune 100 companies, governments and civil society organisations, their clients engage them because they deliver systemic, high-quality, sustainable outcomes with less risk, more certainty and in a fraction of the time compared to conventional approaches.