#WorkTrends: How HR Can Help Organizations Handle the Unthinkable

A natural disaster. An active shooter. A turbulent political situation in a foreign country where your organization does business. No crisis is exactly alike, but leadership is always crucial to guiding an organization through the unthinkable or unimaginable.

So how can we prepare for the unknown? This week we speak with Eric McNulty, co-author of “You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most,” on the steps we can take to help organizations weather whatever crisis that may arise.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

How HR Can Lead the Way

HR’s role has expanded within organizations over the past two decades. But when it comes to preparing for and leading during a crisis, HR has a critical role to play, McNulty says. “People are the center of any crisis,” he says. “So HR has a natural role.”

McNulty advises HR to make connections with those who would be involved with issues that may arise in a crisis. “They need to become very good friends with their counterparts in safety, security, health safety and environment, and whatever the business continuity and safety function is in the organization,” he says. “They should be linked at the hip.” As part of these partnerships, HR can work to allocate time to the resources organizations need to be prepared — whether it’s drills, classroom training or other exercises.

HR can also help organizations think through the implications of different scenarios. McNulty uses the example of an organization in a community that had an active shooter event. An employee of the organization was injured, but he was a new employee and hadn’t yet qualified for the company’s insurance plan. Led by HR, the company found a way to contribute to the employee’s family through a donation, alleviating the cost of the employee’s medical care without having to change its broader health insurance policies for new employees. This experience and strategic thinking is necessary, McNulty says, as companies prepare for the worst.

What You Can Do to Build Your Skills

But beyond the organizational level, we all have an individual responsibility to prepare our own selves for crisis leadership. Turbulent times, it seems, have become the new normal. “I think we are in for a sustained period of turbulence,” McNulty says.

He says the best thing we can do individually is to work on our emotional intelligence and our ability to make decisions quickly. “It’s actually not a different set of skills,” he says. “It’s being able to take your skills to a different level.” These are skills we can work on every day. For example, the next time you think about avoiding a difficult conversation, don’t. Have the conversation. It will be awkward, but it will help you become a better decision-maker over time.

Also, use the power of your imagination. The next time you read about a terrible event, think about what would happen if it took place in your own life or organization. What are the warning signs you might have missed? As difficult as the exercise may sound, it can go a long way toward preventing other crises — or mitigating the effects of one. “By getting ready, you’ll do better every single day,” McNulty says.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode