HR Update

Spring_2019 Human Resources Update



Crisis management: leadership in a time of emergency

We have all been affected differently by the Nov. 30, 2018, earthquake. Some had catastrophic damage at their homes or workplaces. Others felt little personal impact but had an increased work burden to fix some of the roadway and structural damage or to cover for coworkers who were taking care of personal things.

As a company, how do you prepare for the unexpected crisis?

The answer to that first begins with a couple of questions: Do you have a plan? Has the plan been written down and communicated to your team members? Finally, have you practiced the plan?

Dave Reynolds, senior safety consultant for Avitus Group, suggests that every workplace should have a safety assessment. He explains that “Each crisis plan is a little different based on the type of workplace.” So a plan for an office environment will be different from that for a warehouse or a construction site.

“Safety” Dave also points out that a workplace will likely have multiple crisis plans for different scenarios. Examples would be an evacuation plan, hostile visitor/active shooter plans, earthquake response, major snow event, medical situations, and production concerns such as respiratory quality, noise levels and hazmat issues. Reynolds says that even a power outage could be considered a crisis and companies should have a plan in place.

The goal for any crisis response plan should be to have a team that knows exactly what to do and how to do it when a crisis hits.

The first step to get to this goal is to make sure your crisis plan is written down. It can be a hard copy in a binder or on your company’s intranet. The second step would be to communicate the plan and its location to all employees, especially those who may have key roles in the plan. There’s no point in having a plan if no one knows their part. Orientation for your crisis plan should be included in part of any new employee’s on-boarding

Once you have your crisis response plans in place, it is best to review this management plan with your entire staff twice a year at a minimum. One time you can spend reviewing and training on the plan. The other time you should conduct a drill. Additionally, as part of your crisis plan, it’s great to know who on your staff has first aid, CPR or other medical training.

When an event happens, your organization needs to have a point person to decide if your plan needs to be activated. Someone should be in charge of making sure all employees are accounted for. If there aren’t preassigned tasks, there needs to be a person who is assigning tasks to the appropriate employees.

Even more important is the time after the event has passed and business has resumed its normal pace. It’s important to debrief and evaluate the process. What worked? What didn’t work? What changes need to be made? Is there any additional training we need to implement? Did we communicate our plan well — both during the event and prior? Were we set up for success?

Now that we have a plan, we’ve communicated it and practiced it, what can leaders do when a crisis occurs to make sure everything goes smoothly?

Here are a couple of things:

  • Keep calm. That’s much easier said than done, especially when you are frightened as well. However, employees take their cue from their managers and company leadership. Panic can be avoided when those in charge are calm and in control. Staying calm and delegating tasks helps others stay focused and helps control the situation.
  • Be positive. It is amazing how an attitude of “We’ve got this” is contagious. There is a lot to be said for using your game face.
  • Be adaptable. This is a tough one. We have a plan, and we’ve practiced it. But sometimes it’s necessary to change course. It’s impossible to anticipate every variation of every type of crisis, so a leader needs to be able to assess the situation and make decisions based on actual events.

Throughout all of this, it is also important to understand and manage employee fears and the stress that a crisis causes. We’ve seen a lot of this in the aftermath of November’s earthquake, and employers have been stepping up, conducting drills, providing counselling and generally acknowledging that fears and stress are real and allowing employees to deal with them. But with a well-practiced and executed plan, employees will feel more in control and crisis management will go far more smoothly for your organization.

Carolynn Jerome is an enthusiastic and dynamic presenter. She comes to Avitus Group with many years of experience in the hospitality and tourism industry. As an operations manager and supervisor, Jerome’s focus has been on customer service and ensuring that her team has the training and tools to be successful. Her goal has always been to develop the next wave of company leaders. As a trainer with Avitus Group, Jerome has combined her strong background in operations with her education in teaching and is excited to be presenting the monthly Leadership Development Program that focuses on skills and techniques for navigating the corporate jungle for managers and supervisors.