If the communications team is the eyes, the ears and the mouth of an organization during a crisis, the HR is the heart and soul. The human element of an organization is what makes the organization running. However, when a crisis occurs, lots of organizations focus on the external stakeholders forgetting the internal environment. Sun Tzu, the great Chinese strategist and philosopher, has said: “Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley” and that’s what every organization should have in mind in times of crises.
In general, there are two main audiences when dealing with a crisis: the external stakeholders and the internal environment. The current literature and the vast majority of online reports focus on the external audiences. There are some good articles related to the role of HR function during a crisis mentioning some useful crisis management rules.
As a communications professional with keen interest in crisis management I have noticed that some of these articles have a major flaw. Although the authors provide a lot of good ideas about HR’s activities in a crisis, only a very small minority integrates these ideas to a crisis management plan which includes three main phases: pre-crisis, response to crisis and post-crisis.
Each of these phases has a different level of certainty when making a decision, starting from a high level of certainty in the pre-crisis phase to high uncertainty as the crisis evolves.
The pre-crisis phase includes all the necessary actions that would enable an organization to deal with a crisis successfully, such as the crisis management plan for employees, the training of the HR team to handle crises, internal communication tools and the preparation of crisis communication messages. There are plenty of communication tools that we could mention but this is not the subject of this article however an organization should be ready to use low-tech and high-end means to communicate with employees.
Setting up the crisis management processes for employees and the internal communication tools amid crisis would be time consuming and would disorientate the organization, which is the crisis.
During the crisis phase, the organization must have already established a crisis management plan and the communication tools. The HR should focus only on the mix of internal communication tools and the messages. Depending on the issue, the internal communications team might use all the tools or some of them which could be different for employees and managers. All the basic rules of crisis management also apply to the activity of HR including transparency, sincerity, quick response, empathy and so on.
The post-crisis requires could be also characterized as the «healing phase». The organization and more specifically is responsible for healing the internal wounds of the crisis. It’s impossible for an organization to have planned all its actions in this phase before the crisis occurs. The organization should be flexible and capable of adapting to different situations as a result of a crisis.
If I had to choose a single rule about the role of HR in crisis management and communications it would be the strategic decision to fully align internal and external communication from the very first day of an organization’s operations. From the communications angle, it is important to have a solid and fortified internal environment before you expose yourself to external stakeholders.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and they do not reflect in any way those of his various affiliations.