The ABC's of HR Influence During Times of Crisis

Damon J. Porter, Chief Human Resources Officer, Grange Insurance

Damon J. Porter, Chief Human Resources Officer, Grange Insurance

While taking a trip back to my hometown to visit my parents, I stumbled upon several photos from my ninth birthday party. I smiled as I viewed the old pictures, which captured one of my fondest childhood memories. My friends and I had a blast on that autumn Saturday afternoon, playing games at the party venue, being entertained by clowns, happily munching on burgers and fries, and sipping on chocolate milkshakes. It had been a birthday party I would never forget.

My nostalgia, however, was interrupted by my parents who had a very different recollection of that same birthday party. They recalled that the servers and hosts at the venue had been extremely rude, the food was almost inedible, and the cleanliness of the establishment had not been a priority! It was clear they had never forgotten the party either–but for very different reasons.

"With so many unanswered questions on the horizon and countless important organizational decisions to be made, it is the perfect time to confidently step forward to help lead through the crisis"

These contrasting perspectives helped to reinforce an important life lesson for me:

Even when individuals collectively experience the same event, they can sometimes have completely different viewpoints of that event.

I cannot help but reflect on this statement as I think about our current global COVID-19 pandemic. The range of viewpoints related to the corona virus is as broad as they are varied.  Everywhere you turn there are differing opinions about the disease, its origin, how it is treated, who it impacts, its risk factors, its severity, and the overwhelming public response to it. Some people are concerned that we have not done enough to combat the pandemic; others feel that we have done too much. Many have pointed to the ever-increasing number of confirmed cases; others have touted the fact that the number of confirmed cases is lower than what some experts had initially projected.

As Human Resources professionals, we have an opportunity to positively influence the overall experience of our employees during these uncertain times. In parallel, we are also well-positioned to help our respective companies make smart and practical business decisions. As we continue to navigate through these uncharted waters, I suggest we continually keep in mind the following simple tactics which can help elevate our value as HR practitioners:
The ABC’s of HR Influence During a Crisis:

Act Authentically–Many people are struggling. Jobs are being lost, families are being negatively impacted, and companies are being pushed to the brink of failure. During these trying times, it is more important than ever for HR employees to be authentic, genuine partners. It is okay to not have all the answers. It is fine to acknowledge that we each experience various ups and downs in the workplace, wherever that workplace may now physically be. In all of your dealings with others, show compassion and empathy. Be human. Be real. Be authentic.

Be Bold–This is the time to stand up and make a difference. These unique pandemic circumstances, in many ways, can create new and different opportunities for HR teams to thrive. Proactively engage with employees. Ensure your voice is heard. Embrace the opportunity to uplift others. Be an advocate for positive change. Demonstrate your expertise, because it is needed now more than ever. With so many unanswered questions on the horizon and countless important organizational decisions to be made, it is the perfect time to confidently step forward to help lead through the crisis.

Contain Conflict and Confusion–Ambiguity, uncertainty and mixed messages in the workplace are often the enemies of progress. Be mindful of how broad organizational messages are being communicated. Help alleviate additional concerns and angst from employees by operating openly and transparently. Focus on establishing clear priorities for what work needs to be done, when it must be completed, and how it will be accomplished. Discern between what initiatives are most urgent versus those that are most important. This will help clarify priorities and is a critical attribute for effective HR leadership.

As we continue to work through the myriad challenges that COVID-19 is presenting us, we must remain vigilant and confident in our approach. We need to equip ourselves with knowledge, base our decision-making on facts and treat others with the utmost dignity and respect. And regardless of how daunting the tasks may seem, we must continue to fight. Fight against myopic thinking. Fight against outdated organizational norms. Fight against complacency. Fight against fear. We must all keep fighting to overcome the pandemic!

We can collectively emerge from these challenging circumstances stronger than ever, but only if we continue to push ourselves, as well as our organizations, forward. Difficult times can create a call to action, and now is the time for HR professionals to answer that call. Let us be resilient warriors who can artfully navigate opposing views, while still influencing positive outcomes.

Acting authentically, being bold, and containing conflict and confusion are paramount in the workplace, especially during times of crisis. It is during these times that our resiliency is tested. We must remain resolute in our principals, while also inviting differing viewpoints into our discussions. I continually strive to welcome perspectives that vary from my own–with one notable exception: Whether my parents agree or not, I still think my ninth birthday party was awesome!

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