Author Post: Building A First Responder Culture In Your Business


Equipping Your Organization With The Right Team To Navigate A Crisis

Economist Milton Friedman famously said that “the business of business is business.” But given the tumult of the past two years, I’m beginning to recognize that sometimes the business of business is crisis management.

In my book We are HR, I note the impact that crises can have on small businesses. Whether it’s a global crisis like the COVID pandemic, or a local crisis triggered by flooding or wildfire, these events cause significant upheaval, hampering a business’s ability to manage normal operations. Often, they are followed by regulatory change in the workplace that can impact how a company works with employees or customers or delivers services.

Depending on your location, you’ve probably prepared for certain likely natural disasters. If your small business is in the Rocky Mountains, you’re keenly aware of the risk of wildfires. If you’re servicing customers on the Gulf Coast, flooding is an ever-present threat. But until you’re amid a natural disaster, it’s impossible to fully recognize how your customers, supply chains, and workplace will be impacted. And with crises like the COVID pandemic, we’re continuing to navigate an evolving regulatory landscape that impacts how we live and work.

The good news is that there is a solution, a strategy that I share with my clients. It’s the critical process of creating a culture of first responders in your business.

First responders are the people who don’t panic or freeze when confronted with an unexpected event. They stay calm. They look for facts instead of listening to rumors. They don’t give in to emotion; instead, they assess the landscape and act decisively.

How do you identify these first responders in your organization? You don’t have to wait for a crisis. Instead, you can find them in an opportunity. They aren’t afraid of a challenging problem. They step up and volunteer whenever their coworkers or their customers need help. They willingly accept a leadership role but bring just as much energy when someone else is leading. They are always ready to work extra hours when needed to complete a project, and don’t quit until the task is finished.

It’s good business practice to equip and empower these first responders in your business before a crisis strikes. The first step is to assess your business’s structure. When clients initially decide to partner with me, it’s quite common to discover that they have concentrated decision making in a small group of individuals. In some cases, every decision runs through the owner first.

In a crisis, if the owner or senior leadership team can’t reach the business, you may want a few trusted individuals to be empowered to respond to customers or ensure that products or services are delivered as scheduled. That’s why it’s vital today to begin to view your teams horizontally as well as vertically. What needs to change for you to equip and empower the natural leaders throughout your business? Which training will ensure that your business continues to operate effectively when a crisis occurs?

It may also be critically important to outsource a few functions to ensure that necessary support and resources are available when needed. As the founder of a PEO, or Professional Employer Organization, I am of course an advocate of outsourcing HR management functions for greater efficiency and profitability. But I’ve found that PEOs are especially helpful when my clients are navigating unforeseen circumstances due to the PEO’s ability to provide business continuity of essential services. This support is an excellent supplement to the work of your first responders.

A crisis should highlight your business’s strengths, its ability to adapt to changing circumstances while remaining true to its mission. Identifying your key response team in advance of the next challenge will ensure that you can navigate any crisis successfully.



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