Imagine running your organisation with 50 per cent normal staffing for six months while a pandemic sweeps the country.
As Cliff Reece, principal of consulting firm Crisis Risk Management, explains: “A crisis can be anything or happen anytime. Before 9/11, the worst-case scenario was a fire. Then everything changed and now there is terrorism and other major events to consider.”
Without proper planning and contingency strategies, organisations can waste significant time and money trying to cope in a crisis.
“Things like fire training are tactical, but the strategic things are often not done and prepared for properly,” argues Ross Campbell, principal of RAC Crisis Management and author of Crisis Control: Preventing and managing corporate crises.
“In a crisis, it should be the best person for the job in charge, not the hierarchical thing. The person needs to be able to make decisions on the spot and be able to juggle multiple tasks at once. Not everyone can do that.”
“Formal technologies may not be available, so scenario planning is important. People are the centre of the whole issue and a crisis can take a corporation to the front page if it is not seen to be supporting its people, or to have trained them appropriately,” he notes.
Other HR activities include ensuring the information being given out is accurate and confirmed, together with managing the communications interface between the organisation and emergency services.
Enter social media
A new – but increasingly important – issue in a crisis is social media. “Before social media there was only one company spokesperson, but now everyone will be active. There is a huge risk to reputation, as a journalist can ask people directly,” Reece says.
Once the crisis has subsided, HR still has an important role to play.
How families are supported if there is a death, or how injured staff are rehabilitated will be critical, as this can become a media event if employees and families do not feel they have received sufficient assistance.
“Most crises start as an explosion or accident, but then it becomes about blame and how the organisation deals with employees. People are the central issue,” Campbell notes.
“A crisis can be a prolonged event and how it is handled needs to be included in business plans and KPIs to ensure its longer-term management.”
Although managing the crisis itself is important, so is ensuring normal business activities continue.
Identifying potential risks
Nicky Wakefield, Deloitte Consulting’s national leader of human capital, agrees the people element is the biggest risk for many organisations. “A risk culture has a hardware and software side and HR is very influential in the software, or people, area.”
She believes forward-thinking HR functions should be partnering with core risk departments, such as legal and internal audit, to identify, prioritise and monitor people- related risks.
“HR needs to have a seat at the table. It should be a broader role than people risk and should be across all risk activities. The best way to manage risk is through people’s behaviour and culture,” Wakefield argues.
“HR is very influential in relation to the tone and behaviour of the organisation.” There are many opportunities for HR to work with the risk function before and during a crisis, she says. “Risk management complements the traditional HR role in crisis management through greater focus on leader accountability.