Sasha Laghonh of Sasha Talks: Five HR Strategies On How Companies Can Turn A Crisis Into An Opportunity or Advantage
An Interview With Rachel Kline
Have integrity. If you’re trusted in your role to do your job to serve people in an organization, refrain from exhibiting and projecting personal biases onto people. You are expected to serve all the vested members. You shouldn’t pick and choose whom you’ll serve. When human resources operate from a place of ego and/or ignorance, it will attract legal hurdles in only a matter of time.
As any HR leader can tell you, crises are an inevitable part of the job. Tough situations pop up, often at the least convenient times, and these situations need to be handled efficiently yet delicately. Whether it’s dealing with a new employee, wages, or internal conflict, there are ways to come out on top. How can companies learn to take a crisis and turn it into an advantage? In this interview series, we are talking to HR leaders who share their strategies about “How Companies Can Turn A Crisis Into An Opportunity or Advantage.” As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sasha Laghonh.
Sasha is the Founder of Sasha Talks, an educational and entertainment platform that integrates self and professional development into nurturing meaningful outcomes. As a speaker, mentor and author, she partners alongside global clients to capitalize upon their talent. She has also authored books and educational content focusing on business, self-development and spirituality. Visit www.sashatalks.com to learn more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I acquired business experience contributing to commercial industries which range from start ups to established global organizations within a portfolio of industries — financial, academic, government, technology, healthcare, sales, retail, e-commerce; etc. I was able to leverage these experiences by taking healthy risks when entertaining opportunities that would eventually lay the foundation for the platform Sasha Talks. The inception of Sasha Talks weaved my journey of development in the realms of business and self-development. It continues to explore human development and performance management through its channels.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
‘Writers Series’ is an engagement which features select writers recruited through modest channels to present their work before novice and existing writers. Wisdom is dispensed from these seasoned professionals as they unpack their experiences on how to dress a blank canvas with their ideas. Writers rarely discuss what happens before and after that — Writers Series takes that into account to paint a sensible profile of these featured writers. This limited edition opportunity serves as a source to inspire and refine the approach of writers from all walks of life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would like to say ‘thank you’ to Jason, a working professional in the commercial realm. I initially met him quite a while back when attending the Olympics but I never gave it a second thought that our paths would cross again to resume a conservation that was waiting to materialize. He serves as a sensible sounding board and critic when I’m seeking unfiltered feedback. It’s rare to find people that are honest with class.
Fantastic. Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about HR strategies for turning a crisis into an opportunity. Can you share your story of when an organization you’ve worked at entered into a crisis? What happened? What did you do?
A crisis is a broad term therefore for the sake of simplicity I’ll translate it to mean concerns and events unfolding that can jeopardize an organization’s credibility, financial security and reputation. Over the course of my career during the two decades, I’ve seen different forms of crisis unfold which ranged from personnel management issues to a CFO secretly driving a company’s financial health into the ground. In the CFO’s case, the individual had created ghost accounts to recreate the company’s financial picture to appear holistic enough for investors to continue partnering with them to pursue future business deals. The latter resulted in pending lawsuits and financial losses that demanded licensed finance professionals to help the company ‘unravel’ the true story with their numbers. When this story unfolded, I was not directly involved ‘yet’ in the realm of human resources but I did witness the aftermath. I believe it was the lack of human resources and enforcement of workplace operational protocols which made it very attractive for the CFO to engage in this deviant behavior. The CFO did lose their job. The company suffered for at least the next two years as they dissected the mess to understand the true severity of the crime. It served as a learning opportunity for the business owners to hire vetted executives that are honorable to step back when they aren’t qualified to do a job. Such a crisis can still play out in a compliant organization but this place was operating in a casual manner without any legitimate protocols and accountability in place — they looked good on paper, not in application.
I’ve engaged more on cases that involve liability issues: this involves overseeing personnel matters, contractual and commercial issues, workplace bylaws enforcement, financial investigations, employment regulations, sensitive cases worked in partnership with law enforcement and conflicts of interest; etc. Depending on the sensitivity of the case, these crises rarely resolve themselves on their own. Some may end up in mediation, others result in appearing in court due to the disagreement of facts, blurred perceptions and questionable decision-making among the parties involved. When trusted as a counsel I make sure that all parties understand that I can only help them to the degree they are willing to receive the help. They understand that rewriting history will not serve them well. They can be honest or evasive, it will only help or hurt them. My counsel is married with other professionals who handle specific aspects of the case. I often work with members in the beginning or towards the end of the cases. It’s not often that I’m managing the entire case throughout the crisis unless I am the only professional with the specific experience the case demands.
The goal is to diffuse the case/situation from getting worse by containing the liability it presents. Time is of essence because sometimes damage control can turn into a never ending nightmare. This is when no amount of money, or great PR can save a sinking ship. When there’s smoke, it’s possible there’s a fire. Don’t wait for the fire alarm to go off. Ideally, prevention is key by ensuring the workplace is managed well so the probability of a crisis is conservative versus an open playing field on any given day. No one will walk around a landmine if they know it exists.
What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
Each respective case is dealt with diligence and care. From observation and experience, I believe most people can fall prey to such situations when least expected. It can happen to the best of the people too. Crisis isn’t a bad word. It’s a part of life. It comes down to one’s understanding and perception on how to overcome challenges. There are good challenges vs. bad challenges. Good challenges permit us to grow as we encounter a breakthrough in perspective. When managing and/or resolving a crisis (depending on the case), one needs to abandon the victim and victor mentality. Approaching these cases in a rational manner will allow the crisis management to progress at a better pace towards a solution. Not all solutions are favorable. This reminds us the world was created in balance. To manage this balance, we need to do our best to nurture sensitivity within the situation which welcomes the best outcome given the circumstances.
These challenges are best addressed with an open mind by abandoning preconceived notions. There is a cocktail of facts, opinions and testimonies that can overwhelm the crisis management team even when a case appears black and white. Thus it’s best not to make any assumptions on how a crisis will unfold and resolve itself over time. I maintain my focus by remembering the truth eventually floats when unloading the details from these cases. No one is perfect. When people are uncooperative, don’t make it your problem.
Can you please tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and how the company ultimately turned the crisis into an opportunity or advantage? What did the next chapter look like?
Any crisis can be turned into an opportunity if the organization is willing to learn from its mistakes, including oversights, which attracted the crisis in the first place. On a topical level, it often comes down to negligence and personnel matters because people run organizations. Also these tough times reveal your true advocates versus the minds running for the hills and not returning to engage you ever again. It comes down to the nature of the crisis. People can overcome most crises but then there are those that result in financial damages and the dissolution of relationships. The loss of relationships is often more painful than the damages that can be recovered. Bad things do happen to good people — but not all the time. Everyone needs to take vested interest in weighing calculated risks alongside the nature of the crisis. These matters need to be addressed from a place of facts, not fabrications and temperamental variables which ultimately delay outcomes because it extends the vetting process of the crisis.
Here is the main question of our interview: Based on your experience, can you share five actionable pieces of advice for HR leaders about How Companies Can Turn A Crisis Into An Opportunity or Advantage? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Address the matter directly with the employees involved. Do not make assumptions about anything. You must speak to the employees by providing confidentiality to each person involved in the crisis. Taking shortcuts will attract room for errors.
2. Do not seek counsel from people who lack professional Human Resources, Legal and appropriate experience to address the crisis at hand. Most crises are not resolved solely based on knowledge. Leverage legitimate vetted professional resources who can provide sage guidance on how to mitigate and/or resolve these crises.
3. Remember — a crisis rarely happens overnight. Pay attention to the organizational culture and decision making process in the workplace. When communication and enforcement of healthy working relationships are discounted, employees are at risk for their decision-making and work performance to suffer. There are negligent workplaces that lack compliance in enforcing a professional working environment where employees can honor their duty to produce work to the best of their ability. Employers also have a duty to perform. Failing to perform results in a breach which then results in outcomes which they could’ve prevented. Most of these outcomes can’t be undone since time functions like a one-way street.
4. Avoid addressing any human resources or personnel concerns/cases with people not related to resolving the issue. Opinions come a dime a dozen. Professional assessments have a time and place. Do not provide fodder by creating a toxic workplace culture where good employees are cheated of a trusted source (human resources, or otherwise) to rely upon when they need guidance. Employees scrutinize their leaders’ competency to see whether they can be trusted during times of crisis.
5. Have integrity. If you’re trusted in your role to do your job to serve people in an organization, refrain from exhibiting and projecting personal biases onto people. You are expected to serve all the vested members. You shouldn’t pick and choose whom you’ll serve. When human resources operate from a place of ego and/or ignorance, it will attract legal hurdles in only a matter of time. This is a business transaction between the employer and the employee that needs to be honored. Breaching such duty on either ends can result in potential lawsuits by attracting investigations when employers become tone deaf. Human resources should refrain from becoming greedy and negligent by ignoring their professional duty to the employees. It’s concerning when human resources become the root cause of a crisis due to their ineptitude in an organization.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you see leaders make when their company hits a crisis? What should be done to avoid them?
Some of the common mistakes I’ve seen companies engage in when they face a crisis involves the lack of discretion and the emotional theatrics which cloud the judgment of the decision makers who need to help offset the crisis. Depending on the crisis it’s better for the leader to topically acknowledge it before the staff, even if it’s in a vague manner for legal reasons, instead of denying there is a problem. Pretending that a problem doesn’t exist will not make it go away on its own. It becomes worse when it attracts attention because the staff and unnamed sources are recruited to make comments in public spaces. While wise companies have legitimate employment clauses in place which prevent members from communicating any information in any form without legal ramifications, it’s recommended to define what discretion within that organization means and how it is enforced among ‘all’ members of the staff. If someone wants to talk, they will. The information is only credible as the source.
Also, when a crisis hits, avoid reaching for the wallet immediately to make it go away. Respond, don’t react. Learn if this is a ‘true positive’ situation, or a false alarm because money can’t make all the problems go away in life. Life experiences have taught me that paying better attention (focus) can help us better leverage our time and resources instead of bleeding losses. Work on focusing better rather than reaching for the wallet … unless you’re handing me some money, thank you! :)
What advice would you give to HR leaders and organizations who have yet to hit their first real crisis?
A crisis in business and life doesn’t come with a manual. You don’t know everything. You will never know everything. A crisis doesn’t care what school you went to, or how well or poorly you performed at your last commitment. Humble yourself to address the crisis by collaborating with vetted parties who are privy to it. Keep an open mind. Refrain from nurturing preconceived notions based on your personal opinions of other people or circumstances. Those notions are probably wrong anyway. Do your best to work with facts. Take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your critical thinking ability, extend empathy when and where needed and be cooperative with people seeking your engagement. It’s not about what you think, it’s about what is happening and how can organizations resolve a crisis so it will hopefully not occur again.
Don’t be afraid — speak up for the right reasons. Good results don’t appear out of thin air. People make it happen. Having faith in what you’re providing will contribute to a feasible outcome. Actions speak louder than words which means you need to go out there and bat. I haven’t heard of a professional who became an overnight sensation by hitting home runs in their mind. Make the best of this opportunity. Reality is only scary when we don’t engage in life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’ll keep it simple — Do one good deed for someone who can’t repay you back. Life and times may be tough for people out there yet I believe there are still opportunities on how we can practice becoming better samaritans in society.
How can our readers continue to follow your work online?
Readers are welcome to visit sashatalks.com.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Thank you for entertaining my insights. Rachel and Team, keep up the great work!