The Coronavirus Crisis: Working Together To Help You

March 17th, 2020

I, like you, have been startled and frightened by the crisis before us. I lived through the 2000 and 2008 recessions and this one is far worse. Not only are we likely to see a tremendous economic downturn, but many of us are frightened for our own lives. For me, as a 63 year old healthy man, I see a potential to suffer personally (my mother is 90) so I have tremendous empathy for all of you and our employees around the world.

And let me also say this is not the time to gloss over the issues. While I am optimistic that we will come through this over time, there is much work and challenges to address. We’ve all watched the gears of government grind slowly to decisions: we in business have to act fast, decisively, and with a focus on personal care.

As I wrote about this week, I think our philosophy has to be “people first, economics second.” Our companies are filled with dedicated, passionate, capable people – but they can’t help our customers and each other unless they feel safe, protected, and supported. This is not a time to think about cost: it’s a time to think about support, care, and listening. Once they feel safe and secure, your people will pull your company out of this crisis.

I know, for example, that many of your people are now locked at home (we have the forced “shelter in place” here) and they want to work and continue their jobs. But they have children at home too, family members to worry about, food to buy, and the need to feel healthy and connected at home. We as organizations can provide this.

I also know that the projects, programs, and some of the big investments you’re making seem unimportant right now. We have to push these aside (not into the trash) and just keep them alive while we focus on the urgent things: safety, support, and keeping our organization’s culture in-tact.

I also understand that before long many of your companies will see tremendous financial pressure. Anyone in the travel industry sees it now, and the rest of us will see it soon. My advice here is to use the philosophy we discovered in 2008: learn to “do less with less.” In other words, we can slow down what we do without stopping; we can get people to focus on what is most important; and we can trim back costs without layoffs or massive dislocation.

Just to remind you, many research studies have shown that companies who undergo layoffs never recover completely. The survivors of the layoff lose confidence and reduce performance by 20% or more. And many studies show that these “layoff-prone” companies lose brand value and fail to ever achieve their prior success. Please read this article from HBR.

Safety, by the way, is a topic many companies don’t think about enough. Energy, manufacturing, and natural resources companies take it very seriously – but those of us in professional services and other service industries are less focused. Now we have to put it on top priority. Cleanliness, social distancing, reporting of illness, and mindfulness are all important now. Not only is illness costly, but the psychological cost of fear will destroy your organization’s potential.

Let me close with one more point. Now is the time to listen more than talk. Employees want to hear from each other, discuss issues and get help, and we in HR have to create a sense of Voice in the company. Every single concern is now important – and I suggest you have someone immediately respond to every email, inquiry, suggestion, or complaint.

What are We Doing To Help?

I have to admit, I don’t have all the answers. But we do have a lot of resources and a lot of connections to help.

  1. For those of you who are Josh Bersin Academy members, we have opened up a channel for discussion. All our faculty and our internal team are sharing information and I encourage you to share what you’ve learned.
  2. I am talking with and listening to everyone I can. We are advising more than 20 companies on different HR strategies, and in each session we are asking and advising them how to fold this “crisis response” into their plans and programs. Call me directly or email us if you’d like our help.
  3. We are working with our partners at Nomadic Learning to launch a new online course called the Remote Work Bootcamp, which we hope to offer next week. There will be an HR version and an Employee version, so stay tuned to learn more (it will be free for Academy members, NGOs and Charities, and as affordable as possible for anyone else; $5.00 or less).
  4. I am starting to understand “what has changed now” and “what has changed forever” and plan to share that with you in the next few weeks. I think this crisis was long overdue for many reasons, and there are some long-term institutional changes I think we will see. These are all good – but you have to strap yourself onto your seat to get ready.
  5. We are going to have a webinar on March 31 with some HR leaders, I encourage you to join us. We’ll send out a registration email shortly.

Let me add one final point. When I started the Academy my goal was very simple: to give the global HR profession a place to go where everyone can learn, grow, and advance the heroic work we do. This mission is more important now than ever. You really are a hero in your company – and heroes need to take care of themselves, keep themselves healthy, and stay connected to the ones they love.

We are here to support you, because I believe you are some of the most important heroes in this crisis. I am here with you all the way, and I look forward to talking with you as the days progress.

Josh Bersin


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