What is the role of HR professionals during a crisis?

We are experiencing the biggest and fastest changes we have ever experienced. Certainly, the biggest challenge HR professionals have experienced.  It’s been a time of fear, loss, confusion, uncertainty, and isolation.

In these times of crisis, people seek clarity and guidance.  Human Resource professionals have a central role.  They are the Subject Matter Experts (SME) in all things relating to people management.

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom.  There are people and businesses that have stood up to the challenges.  They have set out to make a positive difference. 

They have continued to see opportunities within a crisis.  Those individuals (or businesses) remain focused on their vision or goals and will continue to adapt. 

If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan not the goal! Unknown

The world of work is changing at an alarming pace! Since the coronavirus pandemic, saying the world of work has rapidly changed would be an understatement.

We have learned new ways of working.  We are finding new methods of communicating and staying in touch.  It’s been a time to be grateful and appreciate the little things.   So, what is the role of HR as an SME in a crisis?

HR professionals

What is an SME?

A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is a person with knowledge, and skills in a particular subject.

Typically, the SME is a person that has a deep understanding of the topic. 

This knowledge has usually been gained over a period of time.

The SME will immerse themselves in a particular subject.

In terms of HR professionals, they are experts in all aspects of people management;


  • Employee relations (ER)
  • Talent management 
  • Organizational development and design
  • Diversity and inclusion 
  • Resourcing, recruitment, and selection
  • Training and development
  • Total rewards, compensation, incentive schemes, salary and benefits



What is the Role of HR as SMEs?

HR professionals are always busy. They are busy in a growth market and even busier in a downturn. There’s always something to do whatever the economic climate.

In a growth market, the HR professional is supporting a range of talent attraction and acquisition programmes.

  • Employer branding
  • Recruitment campaigns
  • Talent management 
  • Investing in learning and development programmes
  • Succession planning, and talent retention schemes and initiatives

Downturn or recession, HR professionals are supporting cost-saving exercises.  

  • Redundancy programmes
  • Business transformations
  • Reorganization
  • Restructuring
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • TUPE exercises

In ‘normal’ times people seek out the truth. They want the fact.  They want information and data to back up their own opinions, views, and beliefs. We all consume volumes of data and information on a daily basis.

So, in times of crisis people seek out information to help them understand, respond, manage, and mitigate risks. They need regular communication and accurate information fast.

“Over the last 30 years, HR organisations have gone through several transformations, moving from an operational role (the ‘personnel department’) to one of ‘HR as a service centre’ to one focused on ‘driving talent outcomes’.” Josh Bersin founded Bersin & Associates (now Bersin by Deloitte).

The business needs accurate, authentic, and valuable data to make effective and efficient decisions. We’ve seen how quickly some businesses responded to the changes; supermarkets, manufacturing, and some food outlets to name a few. These fast changes needed excellent leadership.  There was a need to interpret and understand the guidelines.  And efficient execution and implementation of new ways of working.

The results of our Research on LinkedIn

During the lockdown, we conducted a survey on LinkedIn which uncovered some surprising data.  We reviewed over 500 accounts of HR professionals. 

We reviewed various sections on LinkedIn including whether HR professionals were writing and sharing their articles.  It was a disappointing outcome that very few were sharing articles on LinkedIn.  Even those sharing an article were not current or poorly written.  

Senior decision-makers on LinkedIn are scrolling and seeking out current information.  


“90% of the HR accounts we reviewed on LinkedIn hadn’t ever shared an article. This is a missed opportunity for HR professionals to demonstrate their worth and value, build trust and credibility regarding their knowledge and expertise in people management. Business managers are seeking out insights on people management and there seems to be a massive gap in sharing information through this method.”

Why is sharing your expertise is important?


Sharing your expertise has many benefits:

  • Keeps your knowledge up to date
  • Informative for your readers 
  • Sharing insights and research with others 
  • Improves your research and writing skills
  • Raises your profile and brand
  • Grows your network
  • Improves your authority 
  • Increases your reach on social media 

Future considerations for HR 

Responding to the fallout of the coronavirus will take dedicated time and effort. 

“Our health emergency isn’t over and our economic emergency has only just begun” Rishi Sunak, The Chancellor. 

Human Resources will be central to supporting businesses.  And, they will be instrumental in the economic recovery over the next few years.

  • Working remotely, managing productivity and good communication 
  • Keyworkers support and training
  • Employee wellbeing and mental health
  • Technology and Artificial Intelligence
  • New ways of learning and investing in training 

HR will be supporting redeployment as a result of massive job losses.  HR professionals will be managing furloughed staff, and processes.  They will be supporting mental health issues.  There will be ongoing management of new ways of working remotely and communicating regularly to employees.  And planning for the return to the workplace in spring next year.