In Crisis, an Opportunity to “Be Extra”


In the weeks since COVID-19 proceeded to turn our workplaces inside out, I have received dozens of calls from my fellow CEOs looking for insights and advice. Many are asking SHRM about best practices for protecting their workers and transitioning to a virtual operation.

Others are looking for help making hard decisions about furloughs, layoffs, and sustainability of the enterprise itself.

All are concerned about the future, with good reason. New survey data from SHRM show that a large number of workers and businesses—especially smaller businesses—simply can’t afford weeks or months of community lockdown. 

The research, released this week, found most American businesses expect to see a decrease in revenue in the coming year, with certain sectors—retail, hospitality and travel-related for example— expecting sizable losses. One in twenty enterprises anticipates a full and irrevocable loss of the business.

Additionally, a majority of American workers (58 percent) will be unable to meet basic financial needs within a period of 30 days or less.

These are the numbers that keep HR and business leaders awake at night. And when the world is in crisis, people look to us for answers and assurances.

While we may be facing the biggest challenges of our careers right now, in every crisis lies new opportunity. This is HR’s moment to sharpen our leadership skills and reflect on our organization’s guiding principles. Are we living them in the decisions we are making?  

Culture comes first

The HR profession’s highest and best value is defining and maintaining a healthy culture that keeps employees engaged and performing. That becomes harder, but not impossible, when the workplace is virtual. Now is the time to review and reflect on your organization’s culture, as defined by your guiding principles and consider how and where they apply today.

Are your organizational values being harnessed broadly and effectively? Who in your organization is emulating and driving them?  You’ll never have a better opportunity to assess your leadership team for their cultural alignment.

Take this opportunity to communicate with your workforce—a lot—about what you stand for as an organization and how this applies to your crisis response. When the dust settles, you’ll want to retain your talent by demonstrating that you value them.

Lean on your data

Data is your best friend right now, arming you with the most current information about the pandemic, health recommendations and business impact to drive your decisions.

Over the years, I’ve worked with leaders whose style is to do everything by instinct and others who prefer to over-analyze. The current crisis—so dependent on daily-changing data—provides an opportunity to test your ability to make analytical, data-driven decisions and check them against your gut.

Be “extra.”

During periods of heightened stress, it’s natural for HR to dive into logistical problem-solving, forgetting the impact we have on people’s lives and attitudes. My friend Ram Charan, the renowned executive coach and author, advises being “extra” in all you do to serve your people.

That means going the extra mile to recognize those who are working through extraordinary circumstances and find ways to support and empower those who may be struggling.

We have predictions, but the bottom line is that we simply don’t know what our business or our world will look like at the end of the fiscal year. So it is more important than ever for HR leaders to show we are trustworthy, transparent and compassionate.

Whatever happens, SHRM and our profession will resolutely work to create better workplaces and a better new world of work.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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