After the attack

first_imgAs businesses around the world grapple with the repercussions of the eventsof 11 September, one US-based global executive gives his personal view of thestrategic issues arising for HRThe events of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centerwill have a long-lasting effect on the workplace, especially on businesses witha global scope. Many of those businesses have headquarters in the US; many ofthose business people are Americans. They are US citizens who have suddenlylost the extreme level of comfort that comes with living here. We have beenisolated from terrorist threats, while other world centres have grownaccustomed to them. There are several key strategic issues for HR arising from this whichinclude looking at changing needs for senior executives, global mobility anddiversity issues. At some point, senior managers and salespeople with global remits will haveto get back on a plane. It is fully expected that they will be able to getthemselves back through the cabin door. The real issue will be whether they canget their families and friends to rationalise the risk. I was speaking with Tom Mathews, the vice-president HR at AOL Internationalshortly after that terrible day. He was due to fly soon, a situation he wasfine with. The real issue was explaining to his wife, and especially his twochildren, that what they had seen on TV would not happen to their father. Maybe what companies should do, as well as focusing employment assistance programmeresources on counselling staff and getting managers back on the road, is toensure that the families of these travellers are understanding and supportive.What happens when a senior executive is suddenly no longer able to fly – notbecause of his concerns but because a child having nightmares or a crying wifecauses him to back away from his work? How many senior execs or salespeople might be lost because of now verylegitimate family concerns? What impact might this have on carefully reviewedsuccession plans? Then there is the issue of global mobility. In the US at least, we seem atlast to be developing a strong cadre of global managers. These are people wecan deploy worldwide who have the skills and competencies to transfer theirexpertise into other countries and cultures. The slowing economy notwithstanding, we may see a slowing in expatriateassignment starts, especially to emerging markets. Some of this will be costcontainment, some might be just trying to find people who will go. There will,of course, be heightened family issues, again raising the importance of robustselection procedures. Barry Kozloff, Selection Research International’s managing director, says hestill views pre-assignment assessments as key to predicting success. Families,he points out, must be realistic about where they are going and what the risksare, including the travel components. These were important aspects of selectionbefore but these have been heightened by the atrocities of 11 September. Ourbusinesses depend on having the right people in the right place – what impactwill this have on HR’s ability to deliver on this remit? One positive offshoot of this may be that US companies will focus more ondeveloping senior managers worldwide and less on the expatriation of Americans.At the same time it will raise new questions for managers being sent onassignments to the US. Previously, the US would hardly be characterised as ahardship assignment; now that we are a clear and current target, perceptionswill change. Finally, how does this impact on our many diversity initiatives? In the US,we are working hard to ensure we have embracing and retaining workenvironments. Suddenly, however, as a culture, we have painted the devil on thewall for a specific subsection of our minority staff. How do we preach andengender inclusivity while headlines are so riveting? Newspapers are filledwith mug shots of the hijackers, all clearly Middle Eastern in descent. In the US, by law, we have to allow Muslim (and any other employees) to praywhen they need to. Might workplace sentiment cause a chilling effect on thiskey right – to worship? With all the limited information, but vivid newscoverage, how does HR ensure we can continue to guarantee this right? At anoffice of a telecoms company here in the Washington DC area, severalcontractors cheered upon learning about the attacks. How does the companyprotect those people? The phrase, “everything has changed now” keeps recurring in themedia here. It is very true, especially so for HR. There is a terrificopportunity here for HR to demonstrate how the function impacts on thebusiness. We can play a pivotal role going forward in guiding our CEOs and seniormanagers to ensure business gets back to normal as fast as possible. This will,though, require us to move as fast as events unfold – we had better be up toit. By Lance Richards who sits on the SHRM Global Forum Board of Directorsand the Editorial Advisory Board of Personnel Today’s sister publication,globalhr On a wing and a prayerHow Lance Richards, a global exec, got on an aeroplane againLess than two weeks after 11September, I was invited to give the keynote address to about 500 HRpractitioners at the Kentucky State SHRM conference. But first I had to get there– and that meant flying.Security in US airports has never been comparable to thoseoverseas. From my travels, I had grown used to seeing uniformed soldiers withautomatic weapons or dogs in most airports. A two-hour check-in is standard inmost places abroad – never in the US. That is going to change now.After working my way through the long queues at security andthe gate, I headed to the deli for a sandwich. I surveyed the restaurant,ashamed at myself. I am a good HR professional but I found myself scanning thecrowd. Look what this has done to me – I was engaging in the worst sort ofracial profiling.  Once aboard, I opened my magazine, then put it down. And I wasnot the only one – everyone on the plane was looking straight ahead. As agroup, we were all mentally reviewing every passenger who stepped into thecabin.  There was an almost palpable sigh of group relief when thecabin door was closed. No-one who had boarded the plane looked like a hijacker,whatever one looks like. And I wasn’t the only one thinking this, as I lookedaround and saw dozens of heads lean forward, now able to start their reading.The pilot revved the engines, and we hurtled down the runway.As the plane lifted off, the prayers all around me were so fervent, I swear Icould hear them. After the attackOn 16 Oct 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.last_img