Can “good” HR be a strategic advantage in a crisis?
Through the largest and longest bull market in history, many business leaders continued to dismiss the human resources (HR) function as an operational, and largely administrative function. HR’s activities can appear to be – and often are – disconnected from the “real work” of an organization. But effective HR leadership is so much more, and can be a strategic advantage as businesses deal with the COVID pandemic. Let’s unpeel the several roles of HR to better understand how it can contribute.
There are plenty of new challenges to keeping a
company afloat while the world endures the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Here are just a few:
- Applying for
government assistance to keep paying payroll.
- Developing a
work-from-home system for employees following stay-at-home orders.
- Working out
accommodations and new digital venues with customers and suppliers that will
help everyone come through a cataclysmic crisis still in business.
Add to the list a new one: Cyber security threats.
InterimExecs RED Team executive and CISO, Zeeshan Kazmi, says times like these are prime for opportunistic hackers.
Just look at financial technology company, Finastra, to see a cyber security nightmare in action. After coronavirus hit, the company was in the middle of developing an emergency plan to operate when hackers found a backdoor into their servers. Malware quickly spread locking down server after server on their network, taking down many of their customers which include 90 of the world’s top 100 banks.
“We haven’t taken cyber security threats as seriously as they should be taken,” says Kazmi, who has spent 15 years working in the cyber security space. “Companies have been reactive. They protected their business transactions and their reputation. It became a corporate risk management function.”
The reach of coronavirus in the manufacturing sector has been vast. A survey by the National Association of Manufacturers revealed that 78% of manufacturers anticipate a financial impact, 53% foresee a change in operations, and 36% are experiencing disruptions in their supply chains. The Federal Reserve reported that in March production fell 6.3% in the manufacturing sector – the largest drop since 1946. This has everyone asking what the short and long-term impacts look like as major economies around the world seemingly come to a halt to curb the spread of the virus.
Manufacturers everywhere are running into cancellation of exports, delayed payments, and disruptions in logistics. Economist Larry Hu told Bloomberg “The worst is yet to come for exports and supply chain. For the whole year, China’s exports could easily fall 10% or probably more.” Meanwhile the world is grappling with how to deal with supply chain break downs and inventory shortages of critical medical equipment. The US government reportedly has almost depleted it’s emergency stockpile of masks, respirators, gloves, and gowns.
Still — essential companies such as ones producing food, medical supplies, or supporting necessary infrastructure and distribution of supplies are up and running. Leaders of these companies face a whole new realm of challenges as the health of workers and creating and maintaining a safe environment become top concerns.
World War II was devastating Europe. Bombs unleashed death
and destruction across London. The Allies could barely secure a beach head in
Normandy. Undaunted in those dark days, visionary leaders dreamed of a brighter
future when the world would emerge from the deadly carnage, and imagined the
structure of a post World War II world.
Businesses throughout the world now confront a different kind of mortal enemy, but equally deadly and disruptive in its own way. This microscopic virus is virtually invisible, knows no borders, and is agnostic to any demographic. It confines us all to our homes, burying loved ones dying senselessly for no cause and way too soon, and upending our work and home lives. Just as our forbearers prepared for a new world order once the terror of their present one surrendered, we now have some time to humbly roll up our sleeves and get ready for what awaits us on the other side once the pandemic is finally vanquished.
Many of the thoughts in this article are hardly novel, and really simply continue if not accelerate existing trends. Some ideas may seem like logical outgrowths of the pandemic provided they remain emblazed in our consciousness. Others may be dismissed as unrealistic or overly dramatic and alarmist.
No one, however, can doubt a few things. Our lives and approaches to work, our society and business will change, some for the better, others not. Like inventions, there are unintended consequences and manifestations, many of which we cannot now foresee. Finally, and most obvious as we emerge from this Act of God– man may make plans, but God just laughs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in ways that seemed
unimaginable just a short time ago. Within a matter of weeks schools have been
shuttered, sporting events and conferences have been canceled, air travel has
ground to a halt, over 16 million workers have been laid off, and those able to
work from home are now doing so almost exclusively.
Commentators are already proclaiming that coronavirus will
permanently change the world. Many of the expected shifts, however, are hardly
new. They were nascent prior to coronavirus and emerging stronger than ever due
to the pandemic-led paradigm shift.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the migration to remote
work and the technologies that enable it. In the United States almost a quarter
of employed individuals already were working remotely, and
while this trend has steadily increased over the past decade, with coronavirus
forcing millions to work remotely, we may have reached a tipping point.
If remote work is indeed the new normal, how can businesses embrace it? Alonso Vargas and Andrew Andrews-Ramirez provide digital transformation, helping organizations with everything from ERP implementation to outsourcing, to migrating to cloud technology, utilizing platforms including NetSuite, SAP, Salesforce, Hubstaff, and Office 365. They have seen a shift in how organizations are operating and have keen insights into how companies can get ahead in the digital curve.
While many companies are facing new challenges and increasing volatility, we’ve found that most leaders’ responses and outcomes tend to be unique. While quarantined with COVID-19, Todd Herman, author of The Alter Ego Effect, decided to interview 29 CEOs to hear how they described their circumstances.
Each company was experiencing a downturn. Herman analyzed each CEO’s word choice and language to see how they were reacting, noting the importance of a leader’s pronouncements: “words create reality.” He saw big differences in how executives were wired and reacted to the economic rollercoaster. His findings led him to divide the CEOs into three groups:
Fear-Focused CEOs – emotional, concerned, and overwhelmed. Tended to use negative future pacing words like ‘struggle’, ‘fear’, ‘hard’, or ‘difficult’. Spent the most time watching media or finger pointing rather than what could be done.
Unfocused CEOs – dismissive, uncertain, wait and see. Talked about getting a plan, but tended to use the word ‘plan’ in a negative or needs-based way.
Strategy Focused CEOs – take and use what’s given, focused on growth/opportunity. Positive. Spending time leaning into networks.
Uncertainty is growing in the US with coronavirus cases
mounting. California, Illinois, Michigan, and other states have taken serious
actions with shelter-in-place orders, leaving many people wondering how this
will impact them personally as well as their companies and the economy as a
At the same time, we’re reflecting on how much there is to
be grateful for, including the strong relationships we’ve built over 10+ years
with inspiring leaders. These are women and men who focus their careers on running
into the burning building – the company in trouble – learning fast,
listening, assembling resources, providing fresh and objective insights,
developing new plans and actions for survival and ultimately blueprints for a
We recently convened a call with some RED Team execs who shared how they are adapting to new ways to work. Many executives shared experiences on the front lines figuring out how to help combat the virus and also help people work smarter and safer:
Surviving a period of zero or near zero revenue is extraordinarily difficult. The fundamental challenge is how to use time and capital purposefully. Most businesses have multiple constituents with diverse and conflicting interests. There is no one correct course of action. What is beneficial to one constituent is likely to be harmful to another.
Consider the following: The shareholders, owners and founders of a business have invested their own capital, have taken risk and have worked hard to create equity value. These owners could be individuals, institutional investors, private equity groups and hedge funds or could be a publicly owned company. They could be US citizens or foreign entities. Should the protection and retention of owner and shareholder value be the primary and controlling objective?
The worldwide outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is
showing that crises tend to bring out the worst—and the best—in people.
Amid frenzied panic buying, supply hoarding, and finger-pointing, we’re also seeing individuals and businesses step up to help others. If the cloud hovering over the economic system has a silver lining, it’s that temporary changes to how companies define their mission statement could become permanent. Instead of focusing only on their bottom line, businesses might emerge from the crisis more focused on the greater good. In fact, many companies are already leading the way and providing inspiration during these uncertain times.
Anxiety is in abundance this Friday the 13th. We write from our mostly empty office building where both cautiousness and outright fear from COVID-19 seem to be in full effect.
Stock markets worldwide have become nonstop rollercoasters, now mostly plummeting downhill. Grocery stores are packed as people stock up on supplies. Panic seems to be at the root of many news articles and communications. As an owner, investor, or member of the management team it can be difficult to navigate the chaos to determine what this means for the future of your company and employees.
As owners and leaders it’s our obligation to step up during crisis – to be a light to those around us. This is at the heart of what we do. InterimExecs RED Team – an elite team of executive change agents — often run straight into the fire, doing what is necessary to listen, diagnose, set plans and execute. The successful leader must be the calm in the midst of the storm – a point of stabilization for the team and a trusted partner for those around them. So how should we react to the events around us?