HR Leadership in Times of Crisis

By Harry Hutson and Martha Johnson

Organizations are headed for more crises. Tumult and disruption in the world are more than likely. Some would say they are unavoidable, inevitable, or even guaranteed. For most Human Resources professionals, this is a fact of life. In our experience, HR deserves credit for being watchful and wired, reassuringly ready to respond in the moment to whatever just happened.

The worst crises are those without warning. Sudden financial upheaval, for example, a natural disaster, or worst of all the loss of life, produces shock that suspends our ability to react. Our emergency preparedness may not apply to the situation we face. We feel blindsided and bruised, but we must lead.

The question we pose for HR is how to be a leader in a crisis. In the research for our book, Navigating an Organizational Crisis: When Leadership Matters Most, we discovered a trove of useful advice about readiness, reaction, and recovery in an emergency. But we found too little about leadership in a crisis. And we found even less about how HR professionals can lead when it matters most.

We suggest three principles for HR based on our work.

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