HR Management & Compliance

Putting Out Fires: Engaging with Crises Is Critical for HR Development

HR needs to run toward crises and problems. We can help solve big and small crises. When we solve these crises, we add value to the organization, build trust with leaders, and help employees. Do you see the HR symbol in the sky? Yes, the leaders need us!

Source: ronniechua / iStock / Getty

Firefighters run into buildings when most people are running the other way. HR runs toward those “scary” emotions that others avoid. You might be saying, “No way. HR isn’t like firefighting,” but you’re wrong, although we understand why you have that perception. While we might not literally save lives, we save jobs, reputations, team morale, engagement, and sanity. We go toward the big scary crisis. We actively look for the negative emotions. We lean in when there is a big problem.

Let’s look more closely at the types of crises, the qualities necessary to get pumped for a crisis, why you even want to run into a crisis, the critical aspects that HR needs for crisis management, and the disadvantages of managing crises.

Excuse me, why is it so great to run into a crisis?

Because once you do it and know you can do it, you won’t be as afraid anymore. It’s a great feeling to help people in a crisis. You bond with them. Your work has meaning. You have stretched yourself and developed your career in ways you could not imagine. You may have a team involved, and they developed as a result of managing this crisis as well! You were able to showcase your skills, and you demonstrated the value of HR!

How tall are those flames, i.e., what types of problems are you talking about?

A problem is in the eye of the beholder. Let me explain. The VP of sales needs your help with filling an open position and weeding through the 100 candidates, and now, her top sales person’s performance is slipping. Crisis! An employee is concerned about his or her career development and that his or her manager is blocking him or her from taking part in challenging projects. Crisis! A high-potential employee wants coaching to quickly move to the next level or he or she will be at risk of leaving. Crisis! A finance team is having problems with internal partnerships, and other departments are designing ways in which to avoid them. Crisis! The organization is growing and needs to hire 200 people. Crisis! We need to expand our female and POC representation. Crisis! Get the picture? These are crises for someone at the organization, and they are crises because sometimes, we have no advance warning that trouble is coming. HR can partner with the employee, the individual leader, the team, and the entire organization to create ideas and implement sustainable solutions.

Qualities HR needs to WANT to run into a building!

There are specific qualities HR professionals need to get excited and pumped when facing a massive problem. HR needs to be:

  • Responsive: Be available and react immediately.
  • Brave: Be willing to walk into the unknown.
  • Strategic: Understand the bigger picture.
  • Insightful: Listen and do not shy away from emotions.
  • Confidence: Be confident in decisions and personal knowledge and skills. You know this!
  • Decisive: Make strong and clear decisions.
  • Trustworthy: Earn the trust of the organization, employee, and individual leader.
  • Forward-Thinking: Articulate the consequences of NOT managing the crisis.

Yes, that is a tall order. This may sound harsh, but I say this only to be helpful: If you don’t have these qualities, maybe managing a crisis isn’t for you. That’s okay; not everyone wants to run into the burning building. But you should know that about yourself because if you don’t have the fundamental qualities to manage the crisis, you could do more damage than good.

In part 2 of this article we are going to learn what to do once you get involved in a crisis.

Keri Ohlrich, PhD, is coauthor of THE WAY OF THE HR WARRIOR: Leading the CHARGE to Transform Your Career and Organization (LifeTree Media; September 7, 2018) and brings more than 20 years of success and HR leadership to her role as CEO and cofounder of the Abbracci Group. She holds a PhD in Human Development and Organizational Systems.