Crisis management 101

By Phil Harkins on October 10, 2014

Good times in an organization are a direct result of what you do in bad times. When faced with a challenge or hardship, leaders must ensure that HR is a strategic partner to the overall business. Time and energy should be focused on high impact initiatives, and executives need to be coached and aligned with executive teams. To come out on top of a challenge or crisis, you must also ensure that effective communication is taking place within your organization. The Focus Alignment Map can help you facilitate this important step.

The Focus Alignment Map

There are four questions executives and executive teams need to focus on that impact overall innovation, effectiveness, productivity, and efficiency during the bad times:

  1. Strategy—what new or existing directions are required to win during this difficult time?
  2. Execution—what steps need to be put in place to mobilize the workforce to win?
  3. Growth—what few new efforts are possible during these hard times?
  4. Systems—how do we support execution and growth with the least cost?

While addressing and answering these four questions, you should simultaneously be leveraging your focus to create alignment. Narrow your initiatives to those with immediate business impact, listen to the business leaders and focus on what will help them. While making decisions intelligently and swiftly, eliminate the non-critical and pay attention to the essential. Again, make sure you clearly communicate the plan and delegate to capable people to execute. Hard times allow for your best employees to shine—your passionate champions.

Passionate Champions

A passionate champion is an employee in your organization who wants the best results more than anyone and who is more capable in their skills, knowledge and abilities to deliver results. A passionate champion will deliver every time on commitments and promises he/she makes. Characteristics of a passionate champion include:

  • focused drive with unusual high energy
  • obsessive, sometimes compulsive
  • inquisitive—they have a high need to know
  • full accountability
  • believes in the mission, strategy, and organization

Passionate champions become the “human gold” in your organization, and you want to make sure to take care of this investment by creating an engaged workforce for them; connect knowing and doing with the purpose. When focusing on the overall impact that innovation, effectiveness, productivity and efficiency have during the bad times—passionate champions become your innovators, problem solvers, relationship builders and bottom liners.


As mentioned earlier, communication is vital during hard and challenging times. More communication that is delivered that is clear, honest and straightforward will reduce any chance of noise among employees. Since HR leaders are typically more effective messengers, you want to capitalize on this skill and make sure your HR leaders are abundantly clear on what is going on, what the plan is, and how you intend to make it through. We all know that when times get tough the noise increases, with rumors and “news” from external outlets. Once the motivation drops, the fear sets in and nothing gets done. Productivity is non-existent. As an HR leader you are looked upon to take charge of the messaging and deliver clarity and truth when the news is bad, clarity and truth with where the organization is going, and to celebrate the wins as they come in.

In conclusion, HR leaders are vital in driving the business strategically when times are rough. HR leaders need to leverage focus to create the necessary alignment, coach their executives to remain focused and functional, while managing the talent to “win.” And we cannot stress enough the need to communicate, communicate, communicate.

Posted in Blog, Executive Development Tagged with: ,

About Phil Harkins

Phil Harkins is Founder and former Executive Chairman of Linkage. He is an internationally known expert in the fields of organization development, leadership, communications, and executive coaching.
2 comments on “Crisis management 101
  1. Phil,
    This article really resonates. I would even add that beyond the bad times, there are challenging times (e.g. like with rapid growth and change) that can trigger and distract people from behaving collaboratively and proactively. I agree wholeheartedly about the critical importance of focus alignment and communication. I have a slightly different experience and therefore perspective on passionate champions. I don’t necessarily agree that these people “are more capable” even though I agree that they want the best results more than anyone. That said, you are right about “taking care of this investment”- what I would add is (1) do your best to encourage (sincerely) more people to step forward as passionate champions, and (2) be careful that passionate champions don’t become “heroes” since the dependency can result in burnout or resentment. Thank you for a concise and valuable perspective that I’ve gladly shared with my network. I hope it resonates for those whose strategy has typically entailed denial, resistance, or hope and a lack of accountability.

  2. amber8814 says:

    Wonderful material. If only other information I found turned out to be this exceptional. Continue the great effort.

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