Turning the Corner After a Time of Crisis

Leadership and rebuilding organizational culture

By Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP May 14, 2020
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Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP

The U.S. and the rest of the world are dealing with the upheaval from the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on society and economies. Where do we, as organizational leaders, go from here? This is a complicated situation, with no simple, easy or prewritten solution like "Pandemic Recovery for Dummies." We are in uncharted territory. 

The decisions we make now will have impacts on our organizations, workforces and culture for a long time to come. This is an opportunity for HR to take our position as leaders as we begin picking up the pieces and rebuild. There really is no choice but to move forward as a society. Emotional intelligence, communication and leadership are vital to every organization, large or small.

  • Critical Evaluation. At this point, we need to fully understand the needs of the organization and evaluate where we go from here. Do we recall employees? Do we recall small groups of employees over an extended period of time? What about benefits, retirement accounts, accrued days of paid time off? How is the organization doing financially? What can we afford as an organization? By excelling at Critical Evaluation and understanding the finances, HR can ensure that logical decisions are made. Business Acumen is another competency that HR can utilize from its "seat at the table" throughout the recovery process, playing an extremely important role in strategic decision-making.
  • Leadership & Navigation. There is little choice on this competency. We have to lead our organizations and workforces and navigate them through this evolving situation. Assure people through active listening and follow up on their issues and concerns. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion and push the organization in the right direction. Respect is earned by organizations and leaders, not given. Apply the competency of Ethical Practice to guide you.
  • Communication, Communication, Communication. Many of us are aware of layers and layers of complex legislation that has been passed at local, state and federal government levels. Take your time to digest it (but don't let "analysis paralysis" set in). Employees and leaders alike are demanding answers from HR in our roles as experts. By reading the laws, obtaining legal guidance and attending webinars, we can gather the valuable and accurate information needed to communicate throughout the organization. Answer the questions you can answer and follow up if you need to do more research. Provide forms to employees, if required. Closing the loop of communication is critical to building trust and culture in any organization. Treat people how you want to be treated—it really is that simple.

As we assess what society is going through and how we get back to "normal," HR leaders are in the spotlight. The decisions we make before, during and after this evolutionary situation will have long-term impacts on every organization. It is our responsibility to be the kind of leaders we want all leaders to become. Don't be afraid to make decisions, learn from mistakes and recognize successes.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC in Elmira, N.Y., and co-owner of Labor Love LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and in human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.

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