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Communicating Continuity to Millennials: The Next Crisis Managers

By Grace Burley, Witt O’Brien’s:

We live in an age where planning for the worst is an absolute must. When it comes to communication around emergency, crisis, and continuity programs, the outcome is only as good as the employees who put it to action. That’s why communicating the program effectively to employees is necessary, and to do so successfully, corporations need to consider their workforce demographics.

Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. In fact, as of 2017, there were 56 million millennials working or seeking jobs. The millennial generation is well-versed in crisis – they grew up in a post-9/11 world, school shootings are no longer a rare occurrence, and they entered the workforce as the economy greatly recessed. Despite this, when it comes to corporate emergency, crisis, and continuity programs, businesses struggle to capture the attention of millennials.

[Related: Grace Burley to moderate Meet the Millennials “Ask the Experts” panel discussion at the 2019 Continuity Insights Management Conference]

Different generations grow up in different contexts, leading to major differences in how they receive and interpret information. For example, generation X are adept at adapting to flawed systems, while millennials tend to thrive at questioning systems and creating alternative paths. Millennials will have control over corporate resilience over the next five to ten years as they continue to climb the leadership ranks. Instead of lamenting millennials indifference to crisis planning, businesses should instead consider why they seem not to care, and consider the most effective ways to communicate.

Be Clear and Concise – and Make it Pretty
Growing up in a digital age, millennials have been constantly exposed to massive amounts of information. Having to sift through all this extra information just to pull out the important pieces, they quickly tune out if information seems to be irrelevant. Business continuity plans in particular tend to be long, with the first ten pages filled with unnecessary information like all the situations the plan doesn’t cover. A traditional plan structured in that format will immediately lose the attention of millennials, and busy CEOs for that matter. Business continuity plans should be concise and action-oriented with clearly outlined plans and training that tells them directly what to do. And it’s not only the content that matters. Millennials will appreciate a clean visual design that’s “pretty” and easily digestible.

Be Genuine – and Get Personal
Is your business continuity plan filled with industry jargon and blatant company cheerleading? Millennials will tune all of that out. They value sincere stories from real people, and to effectively engage millennials in emergency, crisis, and continuity programs, companies must convey information in a genuine way. Millennials want to know exactly why these programs are put in place and how they work. To truly be engaged, millennials want to feel connected to the challenges and solutions, and know specifically how their engagement will make a difference.

One way to show the importance of corporate resilience is to tell real stories about programs that have been successfully executed. For example, a site leader could tell a personal story of how a corporate crisis management program supported employees and business assets in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Personal accounts can be in different formats, but the more personal the better. Whether through videos, concise case studies, or infographics – these are all effective ways to communicate a real-life story that is way more powerful than any PowerPoint presentation.

One area where millennials have Gen Xers and Baby Boomers beat is their ability to work well together to solve complex problems. Millennials are incredibly adept at the hive mind mentality of teamwork, which is a critical skill of moving business continuity programs forward. Millennials should be challenged to use their experience and perspective to improve static program documentation and training. Millennials’ expertise at using various forms of social media are useful, too. Businesses should utilize these channels to share stories and make corporate resilience interesting and relevant.

Customize Information for the Audience, and Make it Mobile
A key component in emergency, crisis, and continuity programs is that information is customized and effectively communicated to the audience. This also happens to be one of the most common mistakes businesses make when developing these plans. When the audience is largely made up of millennials, plans must be customized to provide context and meaning. They need to know why they are being asked to do something, and more importantly, the overarching purpose it serves.

Finally, all emergency and continuity programs need to be accessible via mobile device. The reality is most everyone – regardless of being a millennial or not – is using their phone constantly, and it is often the most effective way to easily and quickly access information. Organizations often fall short when it comes to investing in the time and effort to make this information readily accessible. However, there are many tools to help make emergency, crisis and continuity information available via mobile device. This also provides an opportunity for millennials to assist in developing and designing a mobile app user experience that enhances information to be accessible by phone.

Corporate cultures are complex, and as millennials continue to dominate the workforce, it’s critical to communicate effectively. Emergency, crisis, and continuity plans are only as effective as those who put them in action, and integrating the plans into cohesive programs with top level leadership support is critical to success. In order to engage millennials, businesses need to challenge them to create. They can do this by providing accurate, actionable information that is customized to the right audience and delivered in a clean package. This doesn’t just benefit millennials, but the organization as a whole.

About the Author: As Managing Director for Witt O’Brien’s Corporate Resilience Practice, Grace Burley has nearly two decades of experience in the crisis management industry. Throughout her career, Burley has served as a consultant to assist dozens of Fortune 500 companies develop and implement comprehensive crisis management and business continuity programs.

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