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HR leaders: stepping up in the recession

Posted on: October 12, 2008

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

In recent days, there has been a lot more traffic looking for advice on Human Resources Management (HR) in a recession.  Scott MacArthur posted a good practical list of issues and I weighed in on his post with two catch-all suggestions for opportunities presented by a recession:  Declutter and Build Relationships.

Strategic approach to HR in the recession

The recession is an opportunity for HR professionals to step and contribute strategically.  In the classical strategy paradigm,

  • we begin by looking at the macro economic environment.
  • Then we look at the micro-environment – what affects us and our competitors.
  • Next, we establish which strategic factors HR influences directly.
  • Finally, we drop down to our tactics.

Reach out beyond HR – think economics

HR Managers in large firms in today’s business climate have to start at the very top of the strategic process.   We are on the cusp of the most dramatic shakeup in business conditions in 70 or 80 years.  And, unfortunately, we will be lucky if it is only a recession.

I picked up a very good video this morning explaining how the credit crunch came about.  It uses the example of a pyramid of champagne glasses.  One of the first practical things you can do, is keep this link to help people in your company understand why the credit crunch happened, and why it is so serious.

Think beyond defence.  Lead.

As I write, I feel like one of the gloom-and-doom merchants we are hearing in the media.  I don’t feel the gloom-and-doom, as my previous posts on positive psychology and the best of Britain in this blog will show.

It does seem that business, and not just the banks, may have been dealing in classical pyramid schemes, and that major institutions, like the rating agencies, were utterly out of their depth.

The best of UK

But, we have another foundation to our society which is far more important than they.

I look to the creativity, the wit, the curiosity, and the plain initiative of the ordinary people of our country, and I look particularly to the spectactularly self-driven and honest Gen Y who are just coming into junior management positions.

Boomers and older Gen Xers need to step up and lead!

Boomers and older Gen Xers should be showing clear leadership but I am not seeing a phalanx of senior executives coming together and providing a united front.  I am not hearing a clear cut strategy from politicians.  What I am seeing, or perhaps hearing as someone put it on the BBC, is a loud raspberry being blown at the bailout. The Icelandic prime minister talked of “each man for himself”.

I think our role, as HR managers, is to reverse this attitude, and facilitate clear leadership in each and every one of our organizations.

So how do we support leadership in this climate?

This is what I would be doing.

Facilitate the conversation

#1 Be in on the strategic meetings and facilitate full discussion.  Our job is to stop groupthink, and to keep the conversations grounded and positive.  Negative thought leads to tunnel vision.  Postive thought about collective action generates creativity and sustains morale.

Broker commitments and loyalty to employees

#2 Ask for clear commitments of what the company can guarantee employees in the worst case scenario.  People need a firm bedrock to push off against.

Engage employees in independent scenario planning

#3 With or without these commitments, ask employees to engage in scenario planning on their own account.

~ I can hear the panic – employees think and talk?  Yes, this is the right time for employees to think and talk.

~ I would set up a closed social network on a platform like Ning, and open it up for employees to post videos and discuss ideas directly with each other.

~ By using a social media platform, the discussion is out in the open, and executives are able to monitor morale, and pick up ideas from the very smart Gen Yers who will use the network most.

Our role, as ever, is to facilitate:

  • Get Gen Y to teach Gen X and Boomers networking skills.
  • Moderate any uncouth language.
  • Net etiquette is pretty strong and some diplomatic coaching will smooth away any rough talk very quickly.

Is this too pink when we need strong task leadership?

Why will these actions help fill the leadership gap?  In a phrase, collective efficacySelf-efficacy predicts the staying power of individuals.  Collective efficacy predicts the capacity of a group to overcome adversity.

Collective efficacy is simply our belief in each other’s competence.  Social networks reveal the strengths of individuals across the organization.  We get to know each other, beyond our immediate workgroup, and we begin to appreciate the depth of talent around us.  Experts begin to explain complex ideas.  Non-experts listen, and display talents in their own areas.  Dumbing up, I like to call it.

Above all, we tend to get that jaw-dropping experience of “I didn’t know we are this good”.  Such insight generates the energy for the extra mile, the extra idea, the extra five minutes of patience, and ultimately the thriving that we hadn’t thought possible.

So how do we set up Ning?

It is easy (and free).  If you are unsure, or have never facilitated an online community before, there are experienced social media users the length and breadth of the UK.  For starters, contact SocialMediaMafia and ask them to direct you to a social media expert near you.  They will be happy to help.  This is the age and medium of the generous, the helpful, the connected.

And P.S.

If you are worried about talking about the economy and HR’s role, please do feel free to talk to me too.  This is the worst economic crisis in UK in the last 70, years but other countries have been through this depth of shake-up on a local basis.  I’ve been here before.

Collective efficacy is possible, and we in HR, are the people to fill the leadership vacuum, both online and offline.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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7 Responses to "HR leaders: stepping up in the recession"

Great post, but HR should also change its name. Human Resources, are people like bits of timber in a yard? Your new model calls for trust and engament. HR should change at least the “Resource” part. But then again just how positive is the “Human” bit? Why not the “talent incubator” department. At least the people with the jobs in HR would know what was expected of them! Too radical? What is the respect factor for an HR department during hard times?

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