Corporate crisis management: the role of human resources

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The current macroeconomic context tends to increase the frequency of corporate crises. War in the Ukraine, global pandemics, inflation, climate emergencies and massive digitalization: all these factors are a source of uncertainty, creating imbalances that have repercussions within companies. However, when a crisis occurs, it's also an opportunity for companies to seize. An opportunity to reinvent, innovate and take positive advantage of the situation. With both an operational and strategic role, in liaison with management and employees, HR is at the heart of corporate crisis management. So what role does HR play in corporate crisis management?

Definition: corporate crisis

A corporate crisis is an event or succession of events that disrupts organization and activity, leading to an uncertain social climate. The origin of the crisis may be intrinsic to the company, or may stem from an external factor. A corporate crisis can result from :

  • the absence of a manager or poor management;
  • merger with another company;
  • downsizing;
  • a labor shortage;
  • a change in corporate strategy/reorganization;
  • site closure;
  • social conflict / strike;
  • a climatic, political or economic event;
  • a health crisis, as we experienced in 2020 with Covid.
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HR functions at the heart of corporate crisis management

When a crisis occurs, human resources are at the heart of crisis management, because the impact on employees is the first consequence of the crisis. HR has to act in the short, medium and long term, managing the crisis at the moment, but also anticipating the way out of the crisis and the post-crisis period. HR’s spearhead in times of crisis management: keeping staff mobilized and motivated by projecting them towards the end of the crisis.

HR therefore occupies both an operational and a strategic position in crisis management, since it must :

  • mobilize employees by maintaining the company’s culture and values;
  • supporting managers in crisis management: crisis management;
  • speed up the digitization of HR processes to accelerate recovery from the crisis and prepare for the post-crisis period;
  • all the while retaining their usual administrative and legal tasks.

Mobilizing employees in times of crisis

As mentioned above, human resources must maintain their usual activities while integrating the additional crisis-related data that may affect employees: management of psycho-social risks, implementation of short-time working or telecommuting, for example. Protocols evolve on an almost daily basis during a corporate crisis, reinforcing the role of human resources, whose missions with employees become increasingly complex in order to keep them mobilized.

Their key role in crisis management is to maintain dialogue and the company’s social climate, to keep employees mobilized and committed. HR managers need to keep their finger on the pulse of the situation, communicating at all levels to adapt to the needs of each person they deal with: executives, managers, elected representatives, trade unions and employees. For the latter, HR supports managers, who act as intermediaries with employees.

Supporting managers and employees: crisis management

HR supports managers in keeping their teams engaged during the uncertainty of the crisis. In this way, HR ensures that working conditions remain optimal (for example, in the case of telecommuting) or that employee safety remains assured (for example, in the event of a technological or climatic incident).

HR is a real support for managers who are on the front line during a crisis, helping them to put in place the right tools and solutions to ensure employees’ well-being. During and after a crisis, employees’ expectations change. The crisis allows us to refocus on the human element, rebuild trust, rethink the collective and think about a new organization of work. From then on, the notion of meaning in work becomes central, and HR has a strong role to play in assessing commitment or disengagement, which can have significant human and financial consequences. In this way, HR offers managers, and the company in general, tailor-made solutions that come from listening to situations and individuals, while taking into account the legal and regulatory framework.

Crisis management and HR innovation

Crises are also great opportunities. It is in crises that companies reinvent themselves, as they are forced to innovate to improve the efficiency of their processes. This may involve digitalization, outsourcing or the integration of resources such as interim managers. In the same way, to carry out these three major missions and the complex role of managing human, administrative, technical and legal resources during periods of crisis, HR can call on the services of interim managers specializing in the HR function: interim HR managers.

Interim management and crisis management

Why use an interim HRD for corporate crisis management?

Transitional HR Director
is an interim manager specializing in the HR function. This is an external HR manager who steps in from time to time to carry out a mission of high strategic importance. His proven know-how enables him to manage the transition assignment entrusted to him, even in a hurry. He is responsive and flexible to meet the needs of the company he works for. Thanks to his experience and skills, he is particularly proficient in corporate crisis management.

A Transitional Human Resources Manager (THRM) can also support the HR Director or Transitional HR Director in carrying out the crisis management procedure: conducting significant change management, implementing new processes, helping to digitalize the company’s HR function, managing human resources during a merger… Whatever the origin or nature of the crisis, these
interim managers
are true allies of the company and the HR team in place to steer crisis management.

The role of the interim HRD in corporate crisis management

Experienced in dealing with emergency situations, transitional HR managers are able to rapidly analyze a situation and then implement and deploy a crisis management procedure. Their objective: to preserve a calm social climate, maintain employee commitment throughout the crisis and prepare for the post-crisis period.

The role of the interim manager/HRD in times of crisis will be to :

  • Restoring and/or maintaining social dialogue
  • Re-establish communication with employees and, more generally, ensure regular internal communication throughout the crisis.
  • Managing an Employment Protection Plan (PSE)
  • Implementation of the Business Continuity Plan (BCP*)
  • Ensure continuity of daily missions
  • Preserving the company’s image and employer brand
  • Implement a risk prevention policy to limit Psychosocial Risks (PSR)




Véronique – HR Director at BOOST’RH GROUPE

For our expert, transitional HR managers are the ideal people to support a company’s HR during a crisis. They have proven know-how and methodologies: a health crisis is not managed like an industrial crisis. You need to have lived through this type of situation to be able to deal with it more effectively, and that’s where the added value of transition HRD comes in. Depending on the sector – industry or service – the transitional HRD will therefore not be the same.

In times of crisis, the company expects a great deal from the interim HRD, who will be able to identify needs and priorities. The first step for the interim HRD is to listen to all stakeholders, to analyze and understand the situation, so as to define priorities and challenge them in relation to the brief received from the company. In some cases, the interim HRD can even define his or her own scope when the HR or management in place no longer has the strategic vision, or in the event of a vacancy.

However, the transitional HRD is no magician. He has to frame the delegation with the customer in terms of what he can and must do. He brings perspective, analysis and an outsider’s eye to the table, which is the strength of a transitional HRD. Be careful not to guide him too much, as he should not become an executor.

Finally, he sets the pace. By virtue of his position, he is authorized to ask a lot of questions and request information. We need to use this strength to keep up a steady pace, while communicating and informing people of the initial results. This sustained communication is essential to build trust over a short period of time.

To sum up

In 3 questions
Why use interim management in a corporate crisis?

Interim management (in particular through an interim HRD or HRR) provides an experienced and immediately operational human resource to support the company in crisis in implementing its Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and leading the crisis management procedure.

What role does an interim HRD play in crisis management?

Thanks to his outside viewpoint and experience, the interim HR Director manages all aspects of crisis management: maintaining social dialogue, internal communication, dialogue and negotiation with unions, employee well-being… He also ensures that crisis management procedures are respected or adapted, if necessary, at HR level.

What is the role of human resources in the post-crisis era?

The crisis reveals opportunities. Human resources must take advantage of the crisis to continue innovating and reviewing their processes. In times of crisis, HR departments can call on the services of Time-sharing HR department to get away from the operational side of things and focus on deploying the changes that will have emerged from the crisis, for example. HR managers need to be vigilant when it comes to managing the aftermath of a crisis, and always keep employment (workforce and skills) in mind. We need to be able to support employees as they change jobs, professions and even geographical locations.