How HR leaders can lead through crisis and culture management.
By Simon Kent
Crisis Human Management
The ability to guide a business through crisis and uncertainty requires clear, open, and honest communication from HR. Having endured the pandemic and now dealing with the cost-of-living crisis, HR leaders admit there are times when they cannot give clear answers to their employees’ questions and concerns, but it is better to admit this uncertainty than to ignore it.
“If you can give your employees information, then make sure you give it to them,” says Estelle Hollingsworth, chief people officer at Virgin Atlantic. “If you can’t tell them something, then tell them that you can’t.”
Neil Morrison, director of human resources for Severn Trent Water, agrees HR needs to be on top of the business case from a people point of view. If economic and market circumstances mean redundancies are going to take place, then there needs to be a sense of pragmatism to handle this or to redeploy and retrain staff. Being clear and direct demonstrates that the business cares about their future and wants to look after them. “You have to hold yourself to account,” says Morrison. “We have made commitments to the workforce and these need to be honoured in whatever way works.”
Fiona Brunskill, chief people officer at Transport for London, says that difficult times for the business are also the times when it’s important for employees to understand the extent of the support available to them. Ensuring employee assistance programmes are accessible and relevant is one example, and in Transport for London’s case, offering financial literacy training to employees to match external circumstances, is another.
At the same time, any period of difficulty should be a time where the culture of the organisation comes to the fore. Again, direct and comprehensive communication with all employees plays an important part here, but so too does pushing activities that remind employees of the business culture, because that, in turn, can support the resilience everyone needs to carry. “We need to be resilient in order to be comfortable with the ‘don’t knows’ because some questions can’t be answered,” Brunskill notes.
The need to embed a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) into an organisation is now beyond question, but for the British Transport Police, it has particular importance. Led by Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi, the force has a very particular role and one which means serving the entire diverse population of the country.
However, the force has been the source of some shocking and headline-grabbing stories in recent years, where members abused their position and demonstrated extreme prejudice. In the wake of these cases, she is being relentless in pursuing the values that make the force better. It also means slimming down the bureaucracy of the organisation so that it can move forward at a faster pace and engage with more people rapidly. D’Orsi admits this speed of change also means being able to “fail faster” by trying out initiatives which move the culture along and adapting swiftly according to results.
Technology is being used to spread the message and leaders are being given more visibility as they push the message forward. On a practical level, the force’s vetting procedures have been updated to ensure those taken on by the force are a good match for the aims, objectives, and culture. Alongside this push, the organisation is also carefully listening to its employees, making itself open to challenges on decisions made and how services are delivered.
D’Orsi acknowledges policing has a long way to go on the ED&I journey, and that at a time of strict budgets, this is one area that cannot be cut back. But she also knows the force will look very different in 10 or even two years’ time. In the past, she says, there have always been reasons for the force not to change, but the time for excuses is over and the organisation will now dedicate itself to realising its aspirational values.
Organisations are widening and diversifying their talent pools by considering job seekers with criminal records. Jacob Hill, managing director of ex-offender employment experts Offploy, advises employers not to label people, not to make assumptions and, perhaps most importantly, not to engage ex-offenders for the sake of tokenism.
“If employing that person means something for the organisation, it will mean something for the individual as well,” says Hill. There can be all sorts of reasons behind someone’s criminal record, from mental health to social circumstances or simply poor life choices. But Hill says that should not lock them out from contributing to the business.
Employers, including Greggs Bakery and The Timpson Group in the UK, already have extensive experience of taking on people with convictions and have found these recruits to be dedicated and worthwhile employees. At Greggs, Fresh Start Manager Beckie Rowland says one of their ex-offenders has risen through the ranks to become part of a shop management team, gaining service awards along the way.
Darren Burns, director of diversity and inclusion at services business The Timpson Group, agrees the workplace can provide these candidates with a new environment where they can thrive and deliver. Employers simply need to be sensitive in their expectations and in the support they offer to these employees. “Some need more help than others when they’re starting out,” he says. “You should also carry out a proper risk assessment around the role to make sure they know what they’re doing and what is expected from them. If the role matches what they can offer it’s bound to be a success.”