HR supporting and leading during COVID-19

HR supporting and leading during COVID-19 – Claudia Cadena

In this article series, I ask HR senior managers and leaders to discuss ideas on supporting and leading during COVID-19.

Featured guest contribution by Claudia Cadena

What role should HR play to manage the COVID-19 issue unfolding and to lead the way?

Claudia: HR must be a strategist, a driver and a collaborator.

A strategist to think through the countless issues that the organisation needs to deal with and that impact its people.

A driver to galvanize the management team towards identifying the potential solutions to the most pressing issues.

A collaborator to work with leaders of other functions like Health and Safety, Internal Communications, Operations, just to name a few, towards deploying the necessary efforts so that the New Normal is successfully adopted.

What should form core parts of the HR plan?

Claudia: The HR plan must consider multiple angles:

  • How the crisis has impacted the work that people do
  • What changes to work processes may be required so that people can contribute effectively and be productive
  • Whether there is a need to rethink working schedules or device rosters to ensure that social distancing guidelines can be adequately followed
  • Whether there are opportunities to enable people to perform their functions remotely as a way to manage social distancing issues
  • The need to rethink the seating arrangements / common areas so that we can maintain social distancing at all times
  • Whether we need to make changes to the way we manage performance so that we can adequately follow up with employees to ensure outputs are timely and effectively delivered
  • How we ensure that we maintain employee productivity and engagement amidst remote working.
  • The changes we need to deploy to our talent management practices so that we can continue developing our people.
  • How often we should communicate and seek feedback from our employees so we can make timely adjustments to the way in which we are managing the situation and our people
  • Which leaders/stakeholders should we be working closely with and collaborate with to ensure that nothing is left unattended?

In balancing the needs and rights of both employee and employer in managing a crisis, what are prime considerations for HR?

Claudia: HR must consider the following:

  • Business continuity and sustainability. This will enable the understanding of the financial impact and circumstances that frames how people need to be managed.
  • Outcomes and impact. Identifying what must be delivered and how it directly impacts the organisation’s ability to achieve business results.
  • Redistribution of resources. Understanding how operational processes towards achieving outcomes may have changed and what can be done to redistribute/reskill resources to take up the additional workload.
  • Growth and Development. Identifying talent that can be deployed to learn and contribute beyond their scope of work as a way to groom them and allowing them to grow on-the-job.
  • Manpower reduction. This should be the last resort in order to protect the livelihood not only of the employees but of their family and community. Retrenching employees has a significant negative impact not only on those who are let go but also on those who remain within the organisation. In addition, we know that the situation will eventually improve and we will be again hiring employees. As such, sacrifices may need to be taken by both parties and may include things like temporary salary deductions, going on unpaid leave, taking a sabbatical, having a reduced workweek, while the organisation regains its financial standing and maintains the workforce in employment, even through decreased terms and conditions. What is most crucial in order to be able to manage the situation, is to be transparent and honest. Do this so that employees understand the reasoning behind decisions taken and so that they are able to support the decisions and remain committed to the organisation and its future success.

Can you provide suggestions on the communication strategy and pitfalls to avoid?

Claudia: Communication has become essential to manage the crisis. Not just internally but also externally. I suggest the following to have an impactful communication strategy:

  • Frequent communication. Now more than ever, it is important to keep in touch and connected with employees. Update them about what is happening in the organisation so they understand what is going on.
  • Honesty and transparency. Even when not everything may be said, it is essential to ensure that leaders share as much as possible. This will reassure employees and increase trust.
  • Share the good and the bad. Everyone knows that the crisis has brought many challenges and issues to organisations. But it has also brought many opportunities. It is critical to balance both aspects and share positive news as well as challenging / negative news.
  • Communication must be a cascade. The CEO should communicate, but so should the Head of Departments, Managers, team leaders and supervisors. It is every people manager’s responsibility to share information with their employees.
  • As many people should be communicating, it is important to provide them with written reference materials with specific information to be shared. This will ensure that what is being shared is consistent and accurate. This will avoid conflicting messaging and misinformation.
  • Feedback loop. It is not just about sharing downwards. It is about listening up as well. Launching frequent feedback sessions that allow employees to share their views/thoughts will ensure that everyone is given the chance to contribute and share their insights/ideas on how to manage the situation.

What actions can HR take to support the organisations for business operation continuity?

Claudia: HR can take the following actions:

  • Be a facilitator. Every part of the organisation must redefine the way they contribute. HR can facilitate the process by asking the right questions and facilitating discussions towards the finalization of the business continuity plan.
  • Re-imagine. This is the right opportunity to question everything and redesign the way in which talent is managed in the organisation. Creating more efficient, dynamic, data-driven processes that will support the organisation’s ability to develop and fully grow its internal talent.
  • At times we are bogged down with theories, options, discussions, points of view. These are difficult times. We are still navigating the unknown. We should not be paralysed. We should take action and do what we think is best for the organisation and the employees now. And we should correct our course along the way.


Claudia CadenaClaudia Cadena is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Thread Advisory. She has over 28 years of strategic, consulting and operational experience in the field of human capital management. Her areas of expertise are organisational and culture transformation, talent management, project management and employee communication. Read the background behind this article series and other featured contributions.


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