‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’: How to keep HR relevant in challenging times

Who could have predicted that 2020 would be such a challenging year for so many people and organisations, right across the world?

Challenging times can bring out the best and the worst in organisations, but whatever the impact of the pandemic for your NFP, having an HR team – or person – that has the confidence and trust of the your staff and volunteers is critical.

So how can HR professionals stay relevant during challenging times? Here are some key steps to consider as you reflect on HR’s role in helping your organisation though one of the most challenging times in many peoples’ lifetimes.

1. Share what you do – and how you can help – with staff and volunteers

Many NFP employees don’t really get the role of HR. That’s not entirely surprising given that HR has a unique “dual-client”, multi-function role in organisations:

  • Supporting the organisation: The strategic, administrative and compliance roles where the “client” is your organisation. 
  • Supporting employees: The wellbeing and development roles where the “client” is your organisation’s employees and volunteers. 

Managing these two very different roles can sometimes create confusion, and can lead to mistrust amongst employees. In some organisations, this plays out as HR being seen as overbearing, or as the “cop on the beat”, closely monitoring workplace behaviour. At the other extreme, HR can seem absent and employees can feel unsupported and disconnected.

To create clarity on what exactly you do, take some time to create (or update) simple and informative materials that set out the role and function of HR in your organisation, in plain English. 

These materials could include practical information on how you can help staff, managers or volunteers, offer details on the other responsibilities of HR, as well as the specific expertise (and contact details) of each HR person. 

Ensuring these materials are easy-to-read and easy-to-find will make the biggest difference to their effectiveness. Add them on your onboarding process for new staff, send them in a friendly email inviting current team members to connect, or share them on your organisation’s intranet (if you have one) to make sure that everyone has easy access to them if they want to find them.

2. Make policies clearer and easier to understand 

With complex lists of scenarios and requirements, most organisations have workplace policies and procedures to cover every eventuality and contingency. These policies need to be comprehensive, but that doesn’t mean they need to be confusing or unclear – though it’s easy for them to end up like that.

Complicated policies, voluminous job descriptions, or over-inflated internal communications filled with corporate-speak can help to alienate HR people/teams from the rest of the organisation.

Policies should be accessible and easy to understand for anyone in the organisation, from the frontline to the CEO. To ensure your policies are effective and engaging, use this unique time to:

  • Clarify or simplify the text of existing policies;
  • Remove elements that might quickly become outdated, or already are; and
  • Clarify who’s eligible, affected, or excepted for each policy.

(For more tips on ensuring your policies are relevant, take a look at our post on ‘How to write clear and effective policies for your organisation‘.)

3. Develop an agenda for the future

Especially if your organisation is working largely remotely, it’s easy for HR to either become detached from the everyday work-life of staff and volunteers, or on the other extreme, to be constantly “fighting fires” and dealing with the daily priorities set by some other part of the organisation.

HR professionals should be the ones who best understand the people needs of an organisation. Take the opportunity of this challenging time to get out in front of others in your organisation by developing a point of view and an agenda for the top people-related challenges your organisation is facing or is likely to face in coming months and years, including:

For every area of focus, ask “how should we be approaching this as an organisation?” and then develop an evidence base you can use to support and progress your agenda, whether that’s with individual team managers, or with your organisation’s senior leadership.

In the final months of World War II, Winston Churchill suggested Britain should “never let a good crisis go to waste”. In the middle of a pandemic, there’s never been a better time for NFP HR professionals to reconnect with your colleagues, reconnect with your core purpose and make a compelling, evidence-based case for what should really matter in your organisation.

What’s been your experience of keeping HR relevant while working through challenging times? Please share any suggestions in the comments below!

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