Published 09. Sep. 2020

Organizational Crisis Management: 7 Surprising Ways HR Leads Through a Crisis

The most perplexing impasses and excruciating choices tend to land on the HR’s doorway. Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) or more aptly, “Chief Crisis Officers” (CCOs) are facing exceptional challenges with malleability, resilience, and crisis management in real time. In this article, Management Events defines how HR leads in a crisis.
Human Resources
People and Culture

Organizational trends point to an increase in the “invisible structure”; culture networks, employee learning abilities, core values, and projected identity that aids in solving previously unforeseen problems. Human resources are the arm of the organization that builds this invisible structure.


HR typically functions as a bridge between management and other employees. Yet, this influential department is not often regarded as a business partner, playing a vital role in the organization’s day-to-day running, particularly during a crisis. HR’s responsibility is more than just managing administration and service contracts. The article below expounds that in times of crisis, HR can play a decisive role in safeguarding the company’s success, and as such, it is about time for the rest of C-Suite to bring HR to the decision-making table.

1. People First

Being the people-focused arm of an organization, CHROs must place the safety, culture, protection, and mental health of the employees at the forefront. According to a KPMG International survey, HR executives prioritize employee experience (EX) as their focal point. Pathfinding HR¹ organizations were almost three times more likely to “strongly agree” that employee experience is a strategic priority for the entire organization. Furthermore, when asked about organizational strategies in place as regards EX, 75% of Pathfinding HR organizations had a system in place to design an EX that reflects and supports the customer experience.


¹KPMG defines “Pathfinding HR” as a confident group of HR executives, simultaneously focused on four discrete capabilities to chart their course to the future in a disrupted world: shaping the workforce of the future, nurturing a purpose driven culture, and designing a “consumer grade” employee experience, all through the use of evidence-based insights.

KPMG International


COVID-19 struck impromptu, hitting hard and affecting all levels of businesses. Suddenly, CHROs must focus on employees’ health and well-being over the potential for denial of access or financial loss. Executing workforce adjustments will prevent high attrition levels.


Crunched numbers determine the most optimum methods to prevent the company from being overwhelmed. Deciding employee teams, non-intermittent or rotational work and shifts in location (home or office), number of employees that can work together, those who cannot, and prolonged absences. C-Suite and upper management must prioritize additional insurance coverage specifically designed to protect and support their people, intellectual property, and premises in the event of a crisis.


2. Talent Management and Engagement

The past few years have taught us that business agility is vital to the future of work. With increasing digitalization, globalization, and the newer generation entering the labor force, the faster a company can evolve alongside shifting consumer and employee engagement trends, the better equipped they are to survive in the long run.


Chances are everyone who works for you is aware of at least one website or has an app that gently nudges them to change employers. And if you are like most business leaders, you work hard to give them reasons to stay with your company every single day willingly. In the latest PwC’s Human Resources Technology Survey, technology investments and their effectiveness were explored, with the views of 600 HR and HR information technology (IT) leaders on six continents collected.


58% of these HR professionals informed that they had issues utilizing technology to find, attract, and retain talent. Companies spend $310 per employee per year on HR tech, yet 74% of companies surveyed still plan to boost spending on HR tech in 2020 to focus on pressing talent needs.


During a pandemic, HR plays another significant role that most do not get to think about, one of which is ensuring that employee emergency contacts are up to date. CHROs also take the lead by providing all employees with appropriate outlets for emotional or financial support. Supplementary training offered to develop and retain the best talents.


3. Leading with Candor (Communication & Support)

The golden hours of a crisis are the period in which decision making is at the most critical. During this period, CHROs are looked upon to trigger resources to communicate and respond efficiently across the company, responding to employees’ questions and concerns. Other employees typically place high expectations on C-level executives such as yourself for strength, reassurance, and leadership in turbulent times. It is essential to keep your people sufficiently informed.

Cloud Computing

One of the most critical tools for any successful crisis management approach is implementing a practical communications framework and access to dedicated numbers to help businesses respond to new information as they are available. Examples are special groups and channels via Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, or similar messaging platforms.

Contrary to generally accepted organization data privacy and security laws, a key factor is to ensure the chosen platform is externally controlled, especially in the event of a cyber-attack that forces a section or company-wide network shutdown. This preset mode of communication might very well be the only way to communicate with teams safely.

While only a small number of companies use incentives (30%) and gamification (20%) to lift adoption rates, these two practices were rated the most successful methods to combat low adoption. The two most common strategies—training and leadership communication—while important, should be delivered alongside these other tactics that make using digital technologies more enjoyable, even fun.


4. Establish a Crisis Management Team

Despite a business’s best efforts, encountering a crisis may be inevitable for many. During the formative stage, CHROs as strategic planners can bring people together to form a crisis management team to formulate policies and guidelines. The team will propose potential outcomes and crises that might arise and develop multiple contingency plans based on such situations.


Such as communicating efficiently and effectively with customers, employees, the media, and all other stakeholders. It is critical for businesses with a strong social media presence; you cannot afford to stay silent during this period. Meticulously crafted, frank communications will be essential to maintaining your company’s reputation. The style of communication, honesty, and, when suitable, messaging on how your company is aiding an affected community and employees is vital. Lastly, develop a Business Continuity Plan, where the CMT is in charge of outlining strategies to overcome business disruption.


5. Encourage training and new skills acquisition

training & skills acquisition
During a crisis, leaders often refer to past experiences and or a guidebook of sorts to aid their decision-making. However, there is no single playbook during this pandemic that managers can reference for accurate advice and responses on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its multiple disruptions across all business sectors. Since many HR leaders are accountable for guiding the overall workforce response to COVID-19, they must model a learning mentality and influence others to stay interested and open to learning.


In recent years, technology has dramatically automated the typical functions carried out by the HR department. Summarily, it became possible to activate online payroll transmission, record keeping, training, skill management, employment interviews, hiring, and compensations. HR professionals and employees alike must also flow with the current digitization trend, focusing on skill development.


HR takes the lead to develop and model an experimental culture and encourage other employees to “fail forward” to learn from tough choices quickly. This crisis can also be a chance for HR leaders who have labored in the past to create learning cultures in their organizations, as there may be less opposition to trial and error from performance-focused leaders.


6. Providing Data-Driven Views

There are no clear-cut answers or precedents in this pandemic. C-suite leaders expect CHROs to resolve problems such as rotating the workforce to work productively from home, keeping essential frontline workers safe, and managing large-scale virtual downsizing furloughs. All these while trying to protect health benefits.

To achieve this, CHROs, HR teams, managers, and business owners rely on various software, including an information system to assist, manage, and automate many of the administrative tasks to improve HR activities’ workflow.

Analyze, Strategize

According to the PwC’s Human Resources Technology Survey, HR leaders report robust business benefits from cloud-based HR systems that shape their technology portfolio’s core. 72% report having core HR applications in the cloud or are in the process of moving them. 56% from the KPMG International survey agree that preparing the workforce for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and related technologies is challenging. A further 66% (2 in 3 HR executives) believe that one of the ways CHROs can manage the impact of AI (and related technologies) on the workforce is to prioritize workforce upskilling. Particularly during a crisis when scale-downs or ramp-ups might be in order. HR can and should be providing a data-driven opinion to any actions.


7. Hastening the Future of Work

It is imperative to be aware that the crisis’s effects remain long after it has ended for employees, their families, organizations, and communities during recovery. At this stage, HR must have the necessary tools to educate employees and business leaders on identifying stress impacts and recommending they get help. Achievable by sending out memos or paving the way for intranet pages containing the necessary information about employee benefits and other employee-related policies and programs. Programs such as the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).


Remembering to look towards the future is a common challenge for CHRO leaders. Companies will benefit significantly from endorsing human-capital decisions that respond to the current crisis and future proof tomorrow.


The previous months of lockdown have seen most of the world’s workforce telecommuting from home. Consequently, revealing many cracks and opportunities in the current workforce policies. Fortunately, something good can come out of it. It is an excellent time to rethink the processes and accelerate the future of work — the flexible workplace, wider talent pool, training for remote work, concentrating on employee well-being, and redefining events for societal connections.



The pandemic has devastated businesses and workers alike, obliging CHROs at the epicenter to make tough choices regarding safety, downsizing, compensation, engagement, benefits, and business permanence. Most CHROs have switched to working from home full time for the first time. What with schools and daycare/kindergartens closed. Many employees with young children and dual-career families struggle with work-life integration.


HR’s responsibility is more than just managing administration and service contracts. In times of crisis, HR can play a decisive role in safeguarding a company’s success. They have to be bold and defensive in building effective, cohesive cultures of collaboration, insisting that employees prepare to deal with the unexpected and the challenges ahead, rather than merely refining skills from the past. It is not in the moment of crisis that HR should shine; it is before and afterward. Achievable by insisting the organization do the right things before the crisis hits.

Join us at our virtual networking forum 600Minutes Human Resources on April 14, 2021 to explore the exponential growth of intelligent HR technologies and the trend towards a collaborative human-machine environment with forward-thinking leaders and visionary players.