People Management in Times of Crisis: How a Good HR Strategy Can Save Your Business

Man wearing face mask in front of a business building

There Are Many Ways to Navigate the Coronavirus Crisis. Which One Will You Choose?

When Coronavirus will be over, nobody can tell. But facts are facts. It’s here now and we can’t ignore its effects on every aspect of our lives. That’s not to discourage you from taking action. Quite the opposite. In order to keep your business going in a shambles, you need to be making a good decision for your staff. Starting now.

What does a good HR strategy look like in a crisis situation like the COVID-19 pandemic? Some coronavirus tips for managers are to follow below.


The Elephant in the Room


The first response to a crisis of any kind for many businesses is to cut down on staff. That’s what we saw and will keep seeing with COVID-19 as well. Hiring freezes and ubiquitous lay-offs were triggered across a variety of industries. When we are talking about survival, businesses will always put themselves first. That’s the elephant in the room nobody feels comfortable talking about but it’s the truth. A critical situation of this scale faces employers with tough decisions almost instantly.

Do they like it? Most likely not. Is it necessary? It might be. Is it avoidable? It depends on the situation you are in. How should you do it? How should you proceed with laying off staff due to COVID-19?

The answer is honesty and a human approach. Saying goodbye to a loyal employee because of the global coronavirus pandemic isn’t easy. Is there an alternative to layoffs? Certainly. You just need to identify all the opportunities for employee retention. These might look like:

  • Re-purposing employees
  • Furloughing
  • Applying for financial aid from the government
  • Performing cost estimates of keeping staff for a few more months vs the cost of finding and hiring new employees at a later stage
  • Providing job support for those you are laying off (like Airbnb will be doing)


Uncertainty Breeds Chaos

But chaos is a ladder

Any time is a good time for a Game of Thrones reference. Albeit a fictional character, Petyr Baelish was on to something very real by saying this:

“Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse.”

Many businesses will be massively hit by the COVID-19 recession and some already are. At the same time, another great few will be benefiting from the current situation. Which one of those two categories is your business being funnelled into? It might seem like coronavirus is a disaster for your livelihood at first. But maybe you and your employees are more versatile than you thought. Maybe it’s a matter of changing perspectives and identifying opportunities.

What do we mean? Here are some examples:

Those are all instances of human creativity and flexibility aimed at helping the world at a tough moment by answering its demand. That’s where good people management will come as key. Involve your employees. Be honest about where your business stands in the midst of this chaos. Ask them to actively keep suggesting alternatives.

What’s more, history shows that recessions give birth to successful ventures. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, Slack, and Pinterest (to name a few) have all been started in the period of the Great Recession (2008-2010).


Business Continuity Plans

Adapt, adjust and keep swimming

May we quote a fish? Thank you.

“Just keep swimming”, Dory’s iconic motto and the leitmotif of Finding Nemo. This quote strongly resonates with what Winston Churchill once said: “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

Churchill said that in no less of a trying time, right in the middle of the Second World War. It was a grave challenge for the economy and lives of people around Europe. He also said that “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” This makes our next point: how to keep your business and keep going until it gets better.

A game of chess is like an HR strategy: every move counts
Put in Place an HR Strategy

It all starts with people and it always has. In life and in business alike. That’s why Human Resources is where you should start too. Take a good look at the talent you have in your organisation. Get a very crisp understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members. Some areas to plan for will include:

  • Health and safety procedures in the workplace for coronavirus prevention
  • A policy on confirmed coronavirus case within the organisation
  • Perform an internal financial audit of your organisation and allocate resources to your HR team
  • Implement a work from home setup and technology
  • Improving remote workforce communication
  • Adjusting processes to the new way of working
  • Employee engagement initiatives – online catch-ups, knowledge sharing sessions, company borrels, lunches and regular check-ins, video conferencing
  • The forming of a crisis management team


Be the Leader Your Employees Need

When an organisation is shaking under the pressure of uncertain and serious circumstances, people are looking for a real leader. Someone who can build a company culture around resilience. If you don’t feel you are there yet, don’t worry. This is something that can be taught, contrary to the belief that a leader is born. Good people management demands not simply being on top of a hierarchy but taking the lead when it is most crucial. You should be ever-present and engaged, not a wallflower. Take being a leader as if you are going on-stage every day. When you are out there performing and all eyes are on you, no personal matters should play a role.


Never Forget You Are Dealing With People

There are some basic needs that you need to have met when we are talking about communicating with and managing people. Support your workforce and create a safety net. Most importantly, listen to them. The levels of fear and anxiety among your employees need to be carefully monitored and controlled. People are going to be people. You can’t blame them for being scared especially when it comes to their health and livelihood. You can only guide their mindset and don’t let panic take over.


Scrap the ‘Them-And-Us’ Mentality

In this moment and in time of any crisis, a global sense of togetherness unites better than anything. Often, we keep looking for the things that separate us. That’s how extreme nationalism, football hooliganism between supporters and religious fanaticism exist. These are all based on the preconception “we are better than them”. It’s what you can’t allow existing within your company culture at times like these. Managers/owners, it’s up to you to bring your people together and try to bridge the gap between all the levels within your organisation.


No One-Size-Fits-All Strategy


Every business and its needs are unique. The effects of coronavirus might be something we are all facing, but adopting a cookie-cutter approach is far from correct. As it’s always been, a crisis shines a light on character and resilience. For some, the COVID-19 pandemic will be a chance to demonstrate both. The decisions you make as a leader of your company will steer the wheel to either success or failure.

Cookie-cutter forms and cinnamon sticks, text saying A cookie-cutter approach does not equal a good HR strategy

If your business in the Netherlands is currently struggling, get some HR help. The human resources consultants at Blue Lynx prepare strategic HR frameworks for businesses in need of urgent crisis management.

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