Contingent Staffing Crisis Management Best Practices @zenithtalentGame of Thrones: A great example of crisis mismanagement

What’s one thing HBO’s Game of Thrones has in abundance? Crisis. Most people were probably thinking graphic violence, beheadings, raunchy couplings, zombies or a combination of all of the above. Despite those things, or perhaps even because of them, it’s hard to deny that the groundbreaking series is rife with strife – oftentimes, unexpected problems that blossom into full-fledged conflicts. And as people in the real world, the denizens of Westeros don’t always manage or resolve their crises like champs. A perfect example would be the actions of the Red Witch Melisandre at the end of the most recent season.

In her service to Stannis, one of many nobles vying for a seat on the Iron Throne, Melisandre achieved questionable results through some pretty unorthodox methods. As season five drew to a close, finding an ill-equipped Stannis in an uphill battle to capture a heavily fortified stronghold, the Red Witch proposed that he burn his daughter alive as a sacrifice to her deity, who would in turn promise Stannis his victory. That didn’t work out. An innocent little girl died, half of Stannis’ army deserted in disgust, his wife committed suicide, and he eventually lost his own head.

In a strict business sense, this crisis wasn’t handled well. Melisandre acted outside of proven processes, fell back on excuses, failed to focus on solutions or reparations, and she fled – to another crisis in progress. Thankfully we don’t confront these challenges in the staffing industry (though it may feel like it sometimes), yet a crisis can erupt at any moment. Despite planning, monitoring and implementing all manner of precautions, an unexpected crisis will inevitably test us at some point. Fortunately, we can prevail using a few straightforward tips from Alexander Huls at The Hartford Financial Services Group.

Crisis response practices to save your neck

No excuses

The first step to redressing a problem is owning it. Workplace studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that we have a higher likelihood of walking away unscathed when we throw ourselves under the bus rather than waiting to be pushed. There are going to be situations that require MSPs to explain a failure to their clients, or cases when staffing partners must reveal a problem to their MSPs. The best practice is to resist the urge to rationalize, defend, or formulate excuses for the occurrence. Otherwise, we project an image of ourselves as novices. Assuming accountability for errors, and informing our customers of those missteps when we first become aware of them, demonstrates awareness, commitment, and competence – we are not only acknowledging an obstacle, we are also creating an opportunity to explain our resolution at the same time. As a result, we retain respect and trust.

“If you can tell that your issue is going to have a negative effect on [the customer], and there is no way to avoid it, let them know,” The Hartford says. “Nobody likes being blind-sided.”

While informing the client is crucial, divulging too many details can come across as doctoring up excuses. Transparency and honesty go great distances in reinforcing our integrity, yet some information can be held back – either because it’s unnecessary or immaterial to the situation, which could prove detrimental in re-establishing the customer’s confidence.

No overreacting

If the crisis manifests as a direct result of actions taken by a member of your staff, remain calm. The key to success is teamwork. Unleashing a torrent of rage leads to myriad complications. If we reprimand our colleagues or subordinates publicly, we immediately create negative impressions. Our clients may feel that we make poor internal hiring decisions. That perception can carry over into their views of the talent we’re placing in their programs, leading them to question our quality and performance – even if problems don’t exist there. Overreactions also imply that we’re unprepared to identify and address inevitable hiccups in the process, or have contingency plans in place. Internally, as The Hartford observes, angry outbursts “can cause long-term damage over an often short-term problem.”

If a contingent worker caused the crisis, it’s equally imperative that we handle the situation with professionalism and decorum. MSPs and their staffing partners work closely to monitor administrative and personnel matters, expeditiously resolving issues as they arise. At the start of a client engagement, issue resolution and escalation plans should be provided to clients so they understand that formal processes exist. In a crisis, our best response is to activate those contingencies quickly and calmly to emphasize our competence.

After, MSPs and staffing suppliers should review the worker’s performance together. Follow through, communication and coaching are essential for ongoing improvement and prevention.

  • Review the skills needed for the position and why the resource was not the right fit so the next placement is successful.
  • Record the information in the VMS or other database.
  • Coach recruiters and agencies for better placements.

No circumventing processes

As The Hartford points out: “If you aren’t on some level prepared for any kind of crisis, you will be ill-equipped to minimize any damage to your business it can cause. Don’t pretend nothing bad will happen. It eventually will. Anticipate what could go wrong and prepare for it.”

Developing issue resolution and escalation processes, and presenting them to our clients, is essential. At minimum, the plan should include the following:

  • Steps for identifying the problem
  • Identifying stakeholders that need to engaged and informed
  • Short-term and long-term resolution methodologies
  • Communication and reporting protocols to stakeholders during the process
  • Escalation to higher authorities (program managers, HR, executives, etc.) for unresolved situations
  • A post-incident report that documents all the actions undertaken, the conclusion and next steps for continuous improvement

For reporting, create a simple spreadsheet as an action plan template. Sample column headers could include:

  • Category (the type of incident, such as policy violation, safety violation, customer service issue, etc.)
  • Concern (a summary, title or brief description of the incident)
  • Owner (the ultimate stakeholder who needs to be informed, such as HR)
  • Incident date (the date the issue was first raised or reported)
  • Resolution date (the date the issue was closed or the dates of resolution steps taken)
  • Actions/Comments (more comprehensive details and notes about each aspect of the process)
  • Supporting Documentation (any statements, reports, evidence or other documents related to the situation)

Formal processes that stress stringent quality control, coaching and retention methods assure customer satisfaction.

No substituting apologies for action

An apology after-the-fact is cold comfort. That doesn’t mean an apology isn’t necessary. It means that the best apology is a proactive one – delivered at the time you inform the client of the incident and, simultaneously, of your plans to fix it. The most effective way for us to deal with a crisis – while maintaining the client’s support – is to focus all our efforts on solving the problem before it becomes a prominent blip on the customer’s radar.

Our natural proclivity might be to begin investigating the hows and whys of the incident. However, the most pressing matter is solving it. “That doesn’t mean you have to ignore how the error came about,” The Hartford states. “Just tackle it later.” Once the crisis has been subdued and contained, and damage controls activated, you’ll have time to perform a thorough diagnosis of the causes for your report.

Crisis averted

It’s entertaining to watch our mythical heroes battle dragons, marauding hordes, hostile armies and all other types of epic crises. There’s a sort of catharsis there that helps us face challenges in real life. Still, in a mission-critical contingent workforce program, nobody envies the heroes who must step up to meet a brewing crisis. The best defense, the saying goes, is the best offense. By taking precautions, anticipating potential pitfalls, drafting and executive remedial processes, and owning accountability we can conquer any crisis with aplomb and our client’s confidence.

Read more: Trends in Contingent Staffing