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Navigating A Stormy Economy
Vol. 53   No. 11

By Laurence O'Neil   11/1/2008
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Poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said of adversity: "When it is dark enough, you can see the stars." In the gloom of today's economy, and the uncertainty created by leadership changes in Washington, D.C., employers are seeking guidance through the storm. Now is the time for us to be the stars they see. Now is the time for HR professionals to shine.

These times demand the best of every executive, manager and frontline employee—in other words, the best person for every job, the highest skills and productivity, the latest tools to help employees succeed, and a workplace free of anxieties and distractions.

That's HR. The underlying strengths of our profession—the expertise we sometimes take for granted— allow us to navigate our organizations successfully through the economic winds of change. It's why leading CEOs are turning increasingly to their human resource professionals and why it's vital for us to seize the expectation of leadership. It's also why we need to stand out for CEOs who don't turn to HR first in challenging times. This is our chance to make an impression ... and a difference.

There's no guilt in pulling opportunity from misfortune. Just before announcing his run for the presidency, Sen. John F. Kennedy reminded an audience that when written in Chinese, "crisis" is two characters. One represents danger, the other opportunity.

Adversity forges thought leaders. Now is when HR can demonstrate its business acumen and reinforce its essential role. Now is when we need to confront challenges that haven't been seen by employers for years.

For some organizations, layoffs may be necessary. That carries a responsibility to transition employees for a successful future by providing the necessary support. It also means reassuring the staff who remain and continuing to recruit, develop and invest in the best global talent.

We need to "know our businesses" and provide innovative strategies on staffing and diversity, retirement savings, benefits, contingency planning, organizational efficiencies and maximizing our businesses' core strengths. And we have to remain sensitive to the personal and professional pressures on employees.

That's our job. The heart of HR is "meeting the challenges of a changing world," as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says in our ads. That's why we chose this profession. And why it's now more important than ever to demonstrate HR's unique value through a new kind of leadership.

SHRM's job is to provide the information you need to be effective. Whether with sample policies, benchmarking reports or networking opportunities with SHRM colleagues, SHRM can help you guide your organization through these challenging times.

An African proverb says that smooth seas do not make skillful sailors. We can and will grow stronger from this experience. So will our profession.

Navigating rough seas requires stars. Now is our time.

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