In a Crisis – How do you manage?

Tsunami, floods, Nuclear disaster as if everything has come to an end in the city of Yukushima, Japan… No not yet the battle is still on.

But all of these actually brings a lot of worry for us as we need to see how well we are prepared for such calamities and many others.

The discussion does not revolve around the country, I will leave the job of disaster management to the respective departments to handle crisis in the country but we will talk about how to manage a crisis in a company and specially what the HR department needs to do in the hour of disaster or crisis that arises from earthquakes, fire, floods, chemical blasts in companies or anything else which may hamper the integrity, productivity and viability of the company.

It is a very well known thing now that if companies have a well defined and structured plan for crisis management then the number of injuries, accidents, damages and destruction can be controlled to a large extent. Like in the case of a fire crisis management we organize a fire mock drill time to time, which is a part of planning and makes people aware the of do’s and don’ts in case of a fire within the premises. Similar things need to be charted down for other calamities that may or may not occur within the premises but can affect the working of an organisation.

Let me share a real life case: 29th October, 2005 on the eve of Diwali, when we all were getting ready for the celebrations next day, three bomb blasts in three different market places shook the city. The death toll was nearly 61 and almost 156 people got injured. While we were in office doing the final checks of Dipawali Puja which would be taking place the in the office premises the next day, my phone rang suddenly and I got to know that one employee was injured in one of the blasts that took place in the crowded Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi. The same employee was in her 8th month of pregnancy also.

She was taken to the hospital by her husband, who luckily was not that badly injured.

We had the facility of mediclaim policy for all the employees and she was also covered, but the hospital wanted a deposit of Rs. 20,000- in cash within the next two hours, and the husband of that employee informed us about that. And believe me the Head of Accounts department actually paid the entire amount from his pocket as he knew the process of cashless facility and how everything else might take time.

Within minutes the entire cash was transferred in the account and so things were taken care of without any delays. The lady was working in the capacity of Accounts executive in the company. Whatever happened in the company in the next few days was quite commendable, taking over her role by her colleagues, the duties in hospital by staff members on rotation etc etc.

During that time there was no policy of crisis management in the company, but the way the entire team handled this calamity was laudable.

The point here is that while working on Crisis management policies and procedures most companies give attention to systems, processes, operations and the people element comes in the end, rather it should be the other way round.

So what should be done by the HR department to deal and give your best when a catastrophe strikes?

# A Handy Plan: Sometimes even the best plan will fail so always keep the option open for Plan B in case the first one meets with failure. Also the key people or the core committee involved in handling crisis should work on their intuitions and presence of mind rather than being totally dependent on the well written plan.

# Strategic insights on Safety and Security: Provide your inputs with regard to safety and security of the employees when the company is working on the crisis management plan. The way an HR understands people in the company the others may not. So be it a fire drill, evacuation, or anything like that requires your contribution in the best possible manner. Or it can be like in the case of Japan, how to get the people back to the country or to be sent to another country, how to make sure while sitting thousands of miles away about their safety and security. Some companies have shown great courage and farsightedness so we all should learn and make our own policies related to such things.

# Training: Train people for disaster management, prepare them and as you run mock fire drills do make other mock plans to see how they work and what can be worked upon. Train them for handling a panic situation, many a times a panic stricken employee can cause much higher damage than destined.

# Communicate: Notice boards, policy manual, SOPs, danglers, safety measures, intranet and so on just communicate the entire thing to the employees so that it can be available at all the times. Keep all channels open for communication in order to deal with the catastrophe on time. List of all important numbers and other contact details should be communicated to all, not at the time of the problem but much before that.

# Counseling and Assistance helpdesk: Yes, in some cases it may be required, so that proper help is provided to the employees and they can be made aware of the happenings at the time of situations where the employees cannot move out of the premises. Grapevine, rumors start working and create even more panic so the HR professionals should know how and when to provide help and counseling.

# Cash facility: Yes, I feel that this is one important thing an HR should be made responsible for, when a calamity strikes it becomes important to arrange for cash for many purposes. An account for crisis management can be opened and the team working on such things can handle the account as and when required.

Then there are many things like, shifting if the office premises is damaged, giving information to employees, their pay cheques, leaves, retrenchment  etc also comes under the jurisdiction of the HR department.

Let us just hope no such thing happens and if they do then we all should give our best in times of such calamities.

  • Dr. V. V. Barve

    Very good example of deciding the priorities between festival celebrations and urgent help required by a colleague – disregarding systems and procedures – giving to MAN what is HR.

  • Rahul

    I think this article is well written and on time when whole world is facing lot of crisis..This is true that in crisis situation one should think beyond the system and policies. I would like to share example: In Mumbai, one can see some crisis in rainy season. In case of heavy rains many times local trains gets stopped we do allow people to go early. Here responsiveness to the situation and information through TV/Radio/Friends/Newspapaer should be looked at. Even at the time of high tides, we allow people to work from home.

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Thank you Rahul for quoting this example…A calamity can strike anytime and its our presence of mind and information sharing which can help in creating the balance…

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Very well said Dr. Barve…giving to man what is HR is what we need in the companies today…Thank you so much for taking time out to read the article…

  • Colvirendra

    This is very relevant article.There can be two possibilites, one is the crisis faced by employee and another is when it is faced by the company or some office . Now in both the situations , HR has to play a role and they have to be proactive in the entire approach.There are certain official part and certain unofficial part of handling of the crisis. HR deals with official part, remaining part can be dealt by them but they require everybody’s support in that.As an org, you cant predict the complete situation because there can be unforseen situations too. It should be responsibility of CEO to ensure that complete unit is one in tackling the crisis.

    Col Virendra Kumar

  • Archna Khurana Sharma

    Bingo…this is what this write up unfolds..the official and unofficial part of handling crisis and HR’s role.
    Thank you Col Kumar, for such wonderful insights. :)

  • Sanjiv

    Hi Archana,

    I read your thought about the clamity it was really nice.Keep up good work.

  • Govind Sharma

    Very good article. I thought on similar way when I started planning for emergency management or say crisis management. This article has helped me to understand it deeply and also plan more effectively.