You can never be truly ready for an unexpected crisis, but you can be prepared. In this article, we’ll look at good HR crisis management. Preparation can make all the difference and help your company navigate a sudden period of turmoil.
What is HR crisis management?
Anyone who runs a business expects to encounter challenges regularly. That can mean anything from coping with a skills shortage to dealing with high inflation rates. These problems can be difficult, but they’re manageable.
A crisis is something different. It’s bigger, uglier, and comes completely out of the blue. Sometimes it even has the potential to deteriorate into an existential threat to the business if it’s not handled appropriately. We’re talking about these kinds of problems:
- Large-scale lawsuits
- Injury or death of important staff members
- Natural disasters
- Extreme weather events
- Sudden severe reputational damage
When a crisis hits your business, it’s vital to respond quickly. All teams will be involved in the effort, of course. However, because the HR department is responsible for communicating practicalities with your staff, it’s generally a good idea for the HR team to take a leading role in crisis management.
The pandemic is a good example of a crisis that HR had to deal with. Unusually, it was a large-scale event that impacted every business in some way, so HR leaders were able to lean on peers for support.
How HR ensures business continuity with crisis management
Luckily, much of the potential damage of any unexpected crisis can be contained if you develop a clear plan in advance. To do this, the HR team should take the following steps.
Identify potential crisis scenarios
Identifying the crises that could hit is key. If you’re located in Manchester, for example, there’s no need to have a hurricane response plan. It would be much more sensible to prepare for the possibility of your premises being flooded after heavy rain, along with the risks of travel disruption.
That said, don’t forget that your business is connected to others in ways that you’ll also need to consider. If you source raw materials from the Caribbean region, say, then you’ll still need to think about how a large hurricane there could impact your supply chain.
Conduct risk assessments and vulnerability analysis
All potential risks should be researched in detail. Let’s continue with the case of a flooding event. The HR team might begin by compiling maps from the government’s flood risk portal. Next, it would be a good idea to survey staff to find out how they get to work.
The team can put these pieces of information together to find out how vulnerable the work location is and what the best plan B would be in that scenario. Could more employees switch to remote working quickly? And if so, how much extra equipment would that require?
Create a crisis communication strategy
If you are unlucky enough to suffer a crisis, communication will be paramount to get you through to the other side. For that reason, you should make sure you’re not dependent on on-site tech to keep operations running.
It’s worth investing in remote-ready equipment and software so that all HR functions can continue in the depths of a crisis. Absence management software allows employees to notify HR of absences from any location and device, so staffing shortages can be dealt with. While unified communications solutions mean all employees can be kept informed of any changes and updates.
As long as those navigating the ship have access to their usual tools, they should be able to get news out to your people fast, so everyone knows what’s going on.
Define roles and responsibilities
Effective delegation of roles in advance is another vital pillar of a strong crisis management plan. You may not know exactly what form the crisis is going to take, but there will be many roles you can assign ahead of time anyway. These may include (but are not limited to):
- On-scene assessment
- Alternative location supervision
- Social media management
- Emergency services liaison
- Health and safety reporting
Test and refine crisis management plans
Once the team has completed the risk assessments and assigned roles, it’s time to run a few tests. The goal here is to check how well the plan works in practice before it’s ever needed. Running a mock crisis simulation to rehearse responses and assess your readiness can be a worthwhile exercise.
You’ll learn what you can improve upon and be able to refine your approach. You may unearth some weaknesses in the communication chain if your emergency services liaison officer is on leave, for instance. If you integrate your absence management system into the crisis plan, you’ll know when a stand-in is needed for each role so they’re all covered at all times.
If the crisis plan just sits in a metaphorical drawer after it’s drawn up, that’s no good. The HR team needs to communicate your crisis management strategies to all employees, so that everyone knows what to expect should the worst happen.
Implement regular crisis management training for leadership and key employees. Too often, this kind of training is skipped because it isn’t considered a priority. Granted, that’s understandable when everyone’s so busy. Optimism bias (“oh, it’ll never happen”) is also a factor. But it’s important to be ready just in case.
Craft effective crisis messages
Preparing core messaging in advance is key. You won’t be able to cover everything, but you can make a start. Create draft documentation for each risk scenario and build your message portfolio over time.
Pay attention to document security. While these messages may not be as confidential as client strategy data or your employees’ personal information, they’re still pretty sensitive.
Provide support to employees and stakeholders
When a crisis does happen, the HR team should swing into action to support employees and other stakeholders in your business. Depending on what’s happened, this could include:
- Providing support for home working
- Making alternative salary or invoice payment arrangements
- Expedited expense claim process for emergency costs
- 24/7 online and phone support channels
Cloud HR software really comes into its own here, giving HR staff and other employees access to all the systems they need, even when the office is unavailable.
Ensuring business continuity if a crisis hits
Most of the time, the concept of a crisis may seem disconnected from everyday reality. That’s why, when one happens, it can come as a shock.
HR is the key team best placed to make sure you avoid the worst effects of the situation and emerge in good shape. By making comprehensive preparations, your business can avoid a crisis turning into a disaster.
About the Author
Jessica Fuhl is HR Thought Leadership and Research Content Director at Sage and has written a series of research reports on the future of HR. Previously a journalist at The Guardian and former Head of Digital for the UK Treasury, Jessica has a keen interest in macroeconomics and productivity, and has had work published in the Financial Times, Forbes, and several HR trade publications.