The speed at which some of the supposedly and most respected financial institutes have melted down is stunning. Bear Stearns disappeared almost overnight. Shareholders in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are virtually wiped out. WaMu is down 93%, Lehman has filed for bankruptcy, and Wachovia, AIG, Merrill and others have suffered huge losses. Lehman and Merrill Lynch together have some 85000 odd employees who are worst effected apart from the shareholders. They will now have to compete with the armies of other financial institute workers who also have been laid off this year. This seismic change in their fortunes from master of the universe to a tribe living in fear of the pink slip has left many questions un-answered.
Who drove these institutes to the state they are in now? Lost opportunities, federal government’s failed bailouts, or short-sightedness of the top management? The answer is definitely Short-Sightedness of the top management. Companies are increasingly bypassing departments like Operations, HR, Quality, Production and treating customer focus, Marketing and Sales on priority. With the top management living quarter on quarter the focus on long term impacts is lost. It’s the lower and the middle level that is more sensitized to long term impacts of business decisions. The role of Human Resource function is largely undermined, it is the keeper of ethics and values of the organization, but in an increasingly sales oriented competitive environment it is bypassed to suffice the bottom line of the balance sheet.
Learning & development (L&D) function plays a vital role in not only coaching ‘how to sell’ but also on ‘balancing short term benefits to long terms business impacts’. The L&D of the organization plays a pivotal role in handling the human aspect of the crisis situation. The core objective of T&D department should be enhance skills and make the employee more productive. Most organizations are now resorting to cross-functional training which has a dual benefit of complying to business obligations and as well an effective mechanism to cater individual interests and career prospects. Trainings of this nature not only help companies build skilled resources but also help employees break out of their role fatigue by providing opportunities of vertical growth in career track, opening up multiple career tracks, and applying the business acumen in day-to-day activities, thereby adding significant value to their own profile. And in times of adversities, layoffs and business closures these trainings become weapons for the employees while competing in the job market.
Perhaps it is time for HR professionals to move past being just the messenger and assume a strategic role in leading crisis planning efforts.