In times of crisis, clear and effective communication is essential. Hosting a town hall meeting can provide a platform to address concerns and provide updates. But how can you make sure it's successful? In this post, we'll provide 8 tips on how to host a crisis management town hall that effectively engages your audience and addresses their needs. Whether you're facing an internal issue or an external crisis, these tips will help you communicate with transparency and confidence.
Hosting a crisis town hall meeting can be a powerful tool for companies to address concerns and communicate effectively with their employees. When done well, it can help realign the organization, reduce stress and anxiety, and restore trust in management. However, a poorly managed crisis management town hall meeting can cause further harm!
Here are 8 tips on how to run an effective crisis management town hall meeting.
1. Measure sentiments and concerns beforehand
What are people saying? What are their worries?
The town hall should not be the first step taken to understand the situation. Instead of going into a town hall meeting blind, try sending an online poll or opening up a Q&A session in advance. Holding smaller breakout sessions could also help give further insights into what concerns need to be addressed.
For example, if a company is facing a crisis related to employee layoffs, they could measure sentiments and concerns beforehand by sending out an online survey to all employees asking for their thoughts and concerns. The survey could ask questions such as, "How has the news of the layoffs impacted your work and morale?" and "What questions do you have about the layoffs and the company's future plans?".
This would give the management team an idea of what topics to cover and what questions to expect during the crisis management town hall.
2. Ensure all stakeholders are present
The town hall may not result in all the employee's concerns being resolved, but knowing that all relevant stakeholders are present will help employees know that people with decision-making power are hearing them out.
If it’s about a retrenchment exercise, ensure that the HR team is present. If it’s a PR crisis, ensure that the PR and marketing teams are present.
For instance, if a company is facing a major change in management, it should ensure that the top executives who will be leading the change are present at the town hall meeting. This will allow employees to express their concerns and get answers directly from the decision-makers themselves.
3. Get all the facts right
When communicating about a crisis, it’s important to make sure that all the facts are accurate. Any false information in a time of tension could backfire and affect employees’ trust in a company.
While it may be tempting to publicly address the problem as soon as possible, don’t do so until you get the facts exactly right. That way, everyone goes into the town hall meeting with the same information, assuring a more productive use of everyone's time.
Let's say a company is facing a data breach crisis. Before the town hall meeting, the IT team should ensure that they have all the facts right about what data was compromised, who was affected, and what actions the company has taken to resolve the issue. It is crucial to communicate accurate information to avoid creating further panic or distrust among employees.
No amount of over-communication is too much when alignment is at stake. — Michael Karnjanaprakorn, CEO of Skillshare (via the World Economic Forum)
Once you ensure all the facts are accurate, go into the town hall facts first. Share all the known information about the crisis, and the steps taken in response, and outline all the steps.
Even if the information may seem widely known, oversharing in a crisis is better than under sharing. The uncertainty resulting from the crisis can cause employees to feel anxious. Information, even if it’s bad news, can be calming. A frank approach to sharing information also shows a willingness to approach the town hall with honesty.
For example, if the company is facing financial issues, share all the relevant information such as budgetary constraints and necessary cutbacks. At the town hall, be transparent about the problem and share the steps being taken to address it. Over-communication builds employee trust and confidence in the company. By acknowledging the crisis and sharing information, employees will have a clearer understanding of the situation and feel more invested in the company's recovery.
5. Adopt an appropriate tone
An appropriate tone doesn’t just match the severity of the situation, it also conveys an appropriate emotion and portrays an accurate relationship between the parties involved. Keeping things classy and professional is a given, but understanding the point of view of others can help adjust the way you approach some people.
To avoid any oversight in the words used, involve your HR and PR team in discussions on what might be asked, and align on the best way to approach them.
For instance, if a company is facing a crisis related to a sexual harassment claim, the tone during the town hall meeting should be serious and empathetic towards the affected employees. The company's representatives should avoid any jokes or light-hearted remarks, which can undermine the gravity of the situation.
Additionally, the tone should convey that the company is taking the allegations seriously and is committed to investigating the issue thoroughly. The HR and PR teams can help craft appropriate language and prepare talking points to ensure that the tone of the town hall is appropriate for the situation.
6. Acknowledge the concerns
As much as possible, avoid dismissing employees' concerns. Even if a discussion is going off-track, acknowledging the person's emotions and experience can go a long way in easing the tension.
One trick to show acknowledgment is by repeating what was said. In conversation design, repetition is a method to gain confirmation and trust between parties. In crisis town halls, this could be very useful to show understanding and make employees feel heard. Take this example:
Approach 1: We do not show favoritism. Our promotion scheme works like this…
Approach 2: Thank you for staying and voicing out your frustrations about our approach to career advancement. It is not in the values of this company to award promotions based on favoritism instead of merit. I will speak to HR and look into our current advancement methods.
For Approach 1, the conversation already evolved into a “he says, she says” situation. There is no effort being shown to understand or build common ground. For Approach 2, the manager takes the time to match what the employee says. He acknowledges the emotion that the employee is showing and outlines the problem that has been raised to him.
7. Read the crowd
As the town hall continues, consistently read the sentiment of the crowd and adapt accordingly. Having members of the HR team seated around the auditorium could help suss out how the meeting is going. A live audience engagement tool like Pigeonhole Live could also give you data on how people are rating the answers provided by management.
By keeping an ear to the ground, you could gauge whether the town hall should be extended, cut short, or if a follow-up town hall needs to be scheduled.
For example, during a crisis management town hall regarding a proposed company merger, the HR team was present to take notes and observe the crowd's reaction. While management was addressing concerns, the HR team noticed that the audience was showing signs of skepticism and doubt. The HR team informed management, who then decided to change their approach and clarify the merger's benefits. This approach helped regain the audience's trust, which could have been lost if they had simply continued with their previous approach.
8. Take responsibility, follow up with actions
Crisis management town halls walk a fine line between talk and action. While the town hall is literally an “all-talk” situation, follow up with an action plan at every step. Town hall meetings are a way for management to be accessible to the staff, and there are expectations tied to that. Especially in a crisis, a leader is expected to step up and take responsibility.
So instead of delegating to a committee or looking for a scapegoat, having someone take personal responsibility for the follow-up can make a huge difference in a team's morale.
Don’t expect the town hall to be a fix-all situation. People will come into the meeting confused and even angry. Instead, aim to build common ground, share information, and build a space for honest communication.
Let's say a company has been accused of having a toxic work culture, and employees are calling for action. During the town hall, the company's leadership team should take personal responsibility for the situation and assure employees that they are taking the allegations seriously. They should share their plans for addressing the issue and set clear expectations for follow-up.
The team could also create a committee or task force to oversee the implementation of the action plan, but the ultimate responsibility should be on the leadership to ensure that progress is being made. By doing so, the company can build trust with its employees and show that they are committed to making positive changes.
Post-town hall checklist
After hosting a crisis management town hall, it is important to follow up with attendees and gather feedback on the event. A post-town hall checklist can help ensure that all necessary information is collected and that any remaining concerns are addressed. The checklist typically includes the following points:
- Meeting minutes
- More information on the crises
- Questions asked during the town hall
- Management’s responses to the questions
- Post-town hall feedback survey
- Other feedback channels
Checking off items on a checklist can help organizations ensure they are addressing concerns and maintaining transparency during a crisis.
As an example, a city government organizes a crisis management town hall during a natural disaster. A post-event checklist is used to gather information and address concerns. Feedback from attendees showed helpfulness but a need for long-term recovery plans. The city used this feedback to improve future crisis events.
Host a successful crisis management town hall
Hosting a crisis management town hall is a critical step in addressing concerns within an organization during troubled times. By following these 8 tips, companies can ensure that their town hall is successful in realigning their team, reducing panic and stress, and reinstating trust in management. Don't forget to keep a post-town hall checklist to track progress and gather feedback to ensure that your company is well-prepared to handle any crisis that comes your way.