The power of networks: Insight from Assistant Secretary Robyn Miller
For many HR professionals, the start to the new decade has been one that will not be forgotten. With not one, but many broad ranging and arguably unprecedented crises unfolding over the last few months, the demands on HR leaders and their staff have been substantial. In addition to protecting employees and buildings and maintaining essential services, HR leaders have also been expected to anticipate and mitigate hard to foresee client and community impacts – all while coordinating and aligning with multiple agencies.
This is a challenge in any disaster, but has been particularly demanding during the ongoing novel coronavirus situation.
“This situation is affecting people across the country, which means it requires responses across all states and territories and spanning all levels of government,” Robyn Miller, Assistant Secretary Workplace Relations & WHS Assurance at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) said. Part of the DHA’s role as an organisation is the security of Australia’s borders, which means Robyn has been heavily involved in managing the coronavirus response.
“Each agency has its mission and purpose, an area where it’s appropriate and necessary to provide input and take action. But for the everyday Australian, we are all one entity, one government. That’s why if we start giving different advice at different times, in an environment where there’s already confusion and rumours causing panic, it can be dangerous,” Robyn explained. “It’s crucial that we work together to create a unified response.”
In any situation, the safety of people – staff, clients and the community – is paramount. One of the simplest instruments used to ensure effective response activities is the power of people – our networks.
“HR networks are so important, especially during times of crisis like this [coronavirus] and the recent bush fires, because there is no standardised response, or clear lead that can respond to every outcome. Everyone is impacted, everyone is in an unknown environment – a great way to fast track that learning and subsequent response time, is to share the issues or problems you are facing with your network, and learn from their experiences. Networks bring key stakeholders together and facilitate the sharing of information between agencies,” Robyn said.
All too often in an emergency, organisations are left scrambling to identify and reach key players, which can lead to oversights, misunderstandings, and inconsistent information. In scenarios like this, where there are a lot of rumours and unexpected impacts, networks are a good way to make sure everyone is reading from the same page.
That’s why to Robyn it’s vital to truly know your organisation and understand its footprint in order to cover key considerations. Ask yourself:
- Do I have the right people involved?
- Am I giving the right aspects enough attention?
- How do I ensure information is consistent and updated as the situation evolves?
“It’s hard to predict the next disaster,” Robyn granted. “But what you can predict, is that there will be something. That means that you must do what you can to prepare.”
In Robyn’s view, having networks like this is essential and the benefits vast: they can enable everything from coordinating a response across multiple levels of government and sourcing personnel with specific expertise, to quickly generating accurate on-the-ground reports and effectively distributing updated information. This is especially relevant when the situation you are facing might be unprecedented. These networks quite often fill the gap that occurs before the larger scale and more formal governance and response arrangements are established across government. They can be the difference between being on the front foot in our response or scrambling to play catch-up.
They can also reduce the amount of wasted effort and speed up response times during critical events. While each agency needs to manage events based on its own circumstances, the sharing of technical advice, communications products, Q&As and information about the way in which complex or unusual cases are being managed amongst agencies helps everyone. It leads to greater consistency (where it’s needed), encourages re-use of existing products rather than everyone starting from a blank page, and reduces the burden on lead agencies such as Department of Health during critical incidents such as novel coronavirus. Their advice is being shared amongst agencies so they get fewer questions.
Robyn has this advice to any HR professionals dealing with a crisis: “Networks are an extremely important and powerful tool, so don’t overlook them. Spend time building and maintaining them, so they’re ready whenever you need them.”
“Never underestimate the power of a united response.”
Start growing your networks today by joining the APS HR Professional Network on GovTeams.