With the press full of stories about impending economic woes, it’s easy for HR departments to consider taking drastic steps. But it’s better to develop HR strategies that maintain morale and talent in the organisation and help to position it for survival and future growth. If this opportunity is not taken, HR may well be required to turn the lights off as it leaves. This is how I would suggest that you can help your organisation to survive a downturn.

1 Understand the business context
Work closely with senior managers and think creatively about how you can organise your workforce most effectively to cope with a downturn, while positioning the business to come out ahead of the competition when the inevitable recovery happens. If your organisation is profitable, growing and optimistic about the future, it’s important that you do not get caught up in the wave of negativity. Instead, ensure that you’re allocated the funds that are needed to support the business.

2 Look at competitors
In these uncertain times there will be plenty of talented people working for struggling organisations who will want to maintain the initiative in career terms by jumping ship before they are pushed. There will also be others who, although they’re not actively seeking a new job, are likely to be far more receptive to approaches from recruiters than was previously the case. This could be the perfect time to recruit these people into your organisation and ensure that the business has the right talent in place for the long run, but…

3 ... Protect your talent
Don’t fall into the same trap. To prevent your own recruitment costs from spiralling, you need to make sure that you’re able to hang on to your people. This means that you need to do all you can to ensure that they remain challenged, engaged, motivated, rewarded and assured that there is a clear path for career advancement in your organisation. As such, now is not the time to scrimp on training courses, coaching programmes or anything else that aids employee development. It would be a false economy to do so, and visible cutbacks would have a demotivating effect, particularly if the development initiatives have already been approved and signed off by the senior management.

4 Think long term
If there will be less recruitment and induction activity for your team members to manage during the coming year, take advantage of their availability and tackle the important strategic projects that are critical to long-term success but which keep getting postponed because other activities have taken precedence. For example, take the opportunity to develop the online selection system that your business needs, refresh your competency or performance management frameworks and begin putting in place the talent development programmes that will help you to hold on to the leaders of the future.

5 Do your homework
Given the active role that HR will have to play in the coming year, you may want to argue for an increase in your budget. In the current environment, finance directors will be looking to challenge any expenditure that doesn’t appear to be vital to the organisation’s survival.

To be successful, therefore, you will need to feel confident of any figures that you put forward and be able to discuss them in detail. Before going into any budget meetings, make sure that you have rehearsed your arguments and counter-arguments thoroughly in advance. Be ready to negotiate and have a fall-back plan. Explain that the HR team will be responsible for ensuring that people feel informed, supported and valued.

Lastly, ensure that what you are asking for is realistic in the context of the industry and your company’s performance.

Key points

- Understand how your business is performing and make plans that reflect core business requirements.
- Look for any opportunities that the downturn presents.
- Try to maintain your commitments to existing staff.
- Tackle important projects that have been postponed.
- Be a business partner and form a robust business case.