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3 crucial tips on the role of HR in a crisis

3 crucial tips on the role of HR in a crisis



No one alive has experienced a global crisis like the coronavirus and its unprecedented impact on personal and professional lives. Personal and family health will always have priority.

However, with a global time out – caused by travel restrictions, social distancing, closed restaurants and shops – business implications are also profound. Personal well being is often shaped by the organisations where we live and work. Many industries (such as travel, entertainment, consumer goods and advisory services) are more directly affected, but all organisations have to adapt to this crisis.

HR’s role in a crisis is ever more critical because the stress of a crisis magnifies actions and creates lingering memories.

Recently, there has been helpful tactical advice for delivering essential services (such as how to work remotely and managing personal health). In addition to these helpful tips, HR plays a critical strategic role in coping with disruption.

Here are three valuable tips on HR’s role in a crisis:

1. Care for the individual and attend to the organisation 
Employees are the heart of any organisation and HR’s legacy and future is to be caregivers to all employees. But, at the same time, HR must attend to the organisation setting to ensure the right culture and capabilities, to be an organisation architect. Navigating individual needs with organisation requirements balances what is right for both the employee and the organisation.

When employee decisions are made or actions taken, HR should ensure that those employee actions reflect organisation values. In the middle of this crisis, an executive team asked themselves, “What do we want to be known for by all of our stakeholders as we respond to the present crisis?” They listed some marvelous identifiers (such as caring, empathy, nurturing).

Then they were asked to review their organisation’s core values that they had spent much time crafting. They found that their quick top of mind identifiers did not fully capture all the values they espoused (e.g., innovation, collaboration, accountability), so they tweaked their desired identifiers to more align with their espoused values. They recognised the importance of caring for employees while simultaneously attending to their organisation’s values.

2. Do triage now and plan for what’s next
Triage requires reacting urgently and boldly to sudden, often unexpected, events (close a business, work from home, employee illness, cost-cutting). With inevitable triage, HR can help make sure that what has to get done gets done. At the same time, HR should continually plan for what’s next by envisioning a future and folding today’s decisions into tomorrow’s aspirations.

HR enables effective triage by constantly showing how actions today will be interpreted in the future and by turning future visions and strategies into daily actions. HR helps ensure that triage actions now will create a workplace that succeeds in the marketplace.

3. Make decisions alone but enable others to become decision-makers
In a crisis, how decisions are made often reflects underlying values. Navigating between a command and control versus coach and collaborate decision model does not have to be either/or. Navigating top/down and bottom/up decision making may be done by simply asking others “What do you think?” In one case, a company had to cut quickly cut 20% of labour costs to stay financially viable.

The leader laid out two alternative options: [1] reduce headcount 20% or [2] everyone takes a 20% reduction in pay for a period. Instead of just deciding, she asked others which of these two options they would select. Taking others’ responses into account, she then made the decision. Others felt heard (participative management) even if their desired solution was not adopted.

HR can also help clarify decision processes: What is the decision to be made? Who will make it? When will it be made? And who will be accountable to follow through? By clarifying decision process, HR ensures decisions that enable others.

This is an extract of an article by HR guru Dave Ulrich. For the full article, click here.

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