Crisis Overload? How to Communicate Effectively When Managing Multiple or Extended Crises

This year health care organizations are managing crises on multiple fronts: COVID-19, a national reckoning on racial justice and a series of deadly storms and wildfires across the country. When confronted with multiple challenges, how can organizations communicate effectively with crisis-weary team members and the general public?

Despite the fatigue, organizations must find ways to maintain communications and share important updates. Carefully structured communications can help bring order to the chaos as issues swirl outside and within.

To help anchor communications, consider identifying an executive champion for each issue who can serve as the voice and the source of truth. This champion might be the designated incident commander, or the functional leader of the business unit most directly impacted by the issue.

For example, a health system might designate a nurse executive to lead the response to COVID-19 and an operations executive to lead storm or wildfire relief. Seeing communications from a consistent source can help your audiences compartmentalize and prioritize information during critical times.

When you do communicate, make it a priority to keep the message simple and direct. Remember your team member and community audiences may feel overwhelmed during these difficult times. Make sure your message addresses their concerns right out of the gate. Where possible, focus on bite-sized, easier-to-digest forms of communication like texts, chat-based platforms, website or intranet banners or brief email alerts.

To boost the effectiveness of the messages you do put out, take steps to reduce other noise. Focus on the most critical messages and eliminate or delay everything else. Consider consolidating communication channels and establishing a regular cadence for updates so audiences know where, when and from whom they are likely to receive information.

During periods of intense activity, organizations can further reduce crisis fatigue by identifying back-ups for every member of the response team. The individuals designated as back-ups can provide additional reinforcement when needed and can take over for team members who might need time off to rest.

Finally, organizations should also find ways to check in with audiences throughout the response. For internal audiences, consider building wellness checks into huddles or staff meetings or using quick surveys on collaboration platforms to gauge how people are feeling and coping.

For external audiences, look for a variety of opportunities to gain feedback through patient advisory councils, community surveys, feedback from volunteers and auxiliary members or one-on-one calls with key stakeholders.

Through structured and focused communications, organizations can help their audiences feel informed and supported – even during extended periods of crisis.

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