Are these times really unprecedented?

While I have written the following sentence many times, this time I really mean it: There has never been a more challenging time to be in HR. At least not in my 30+ year career.I was discussing as much with colleague and business coach Allison Tabor (Coppia Advisory). She challenged my thinking with a question: Are times really unprecedented? She shared a podcast from Simon Sinek (link below) who posed that times are not as unprecedented as we might think. Sinek was giving a talk to his own team. Given that his pre-COVID business model was built on in-person speaking, they needed to do some fast thinking. He posited that while the exact facts of the current world situation are different, organizations and people have encountered massive and sudden change before.It struck home. Couching things as “this is just another set of obstacles to overcome” helped me get past my own resistance. And quite frankly, my own excuses. That mindset has led to interesting conversations with colleagues, candidates and clients.We have learned a lot and are focused on Three R’s:Recover (Revenue)There are better times in history to be in an employment-based business. Clients looking for help in their HR organizations dropped to almost zero initially as they collectively hit “The Great Pause.” In the past several weeks, we have seen a marked increase in Bay Area organizations looking for HR talent as they move into reopening – whether onsite or virtually. Our commitment? To be here as they recover and help them to move quickly. We have also made the decision to expand our offerings for contract staffing to all of California and to expand direct hire search nationally. Like any other organization, recovering revenue must include reinventing ourselves to some degree.

Rethink (Organization)

Examples of this abound internally. How do we interact internally and externally? What is our core service? How do we define success? Who do we serve? Where do we serve them? How do we serve them in a remote world? Everything is on the table. We did an exercise where we pretended nothing existed already, that we were starting from scratch with the crazy idea to be a staffing, search and consulting agency exclusively focused on HR — right now. Today. In the current environment with the current challenges but no past. Freeing ourselves of being held hostage to our history allowed us to be far more creative and chart a path forward.

Retool (Technology)

MeritHR is lucky in the sense that we went cloud-based and paperless years ago. We deployed to fully remote work immediately. However, a core belief at Merit is in-person interaction – with each other, with candidates, and especially, with clients. We met most potential clients in person through networking. While we were already in the process of rebranding and launching a new website (look for the new Merit in the next couple weeks), we realized that we would have to invest far more in inbound/content marketing to meet potential new clients. Again, we leveraged our network and especially the expertise of Jaco Grobbelaar (Broadvision Marketing) who helped us see that even before COVID, our web presence and our content philosophy, and the investment in it, was similar to having a great salesperson. His insights got us over the “that’s a lot of money” hump. It isn’t really if equated to hiring sales staff instead. Even small businesses need a strategy and partners in the digital age.

These three R’s can apply to any organization, any department within an organization.

Our learnings?

  • Times are tough. And there have been tough times before. Change itself is not unprecedented.
  • Leverage our network. We all have different strengths. Who in your network can help you figure things out and learn?
  • Be open to thinking of ourselves in an entirely new way.
  • Embrace how technology can help us. Doing so doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in people as a fundamental and guiding principle.

All that from a little podcast a friend shared. You can listen here if you are interested.

I would welcome any conversations about what each of you has learned about surviving and thriving.

Take good care and be well,


CEO and HR Evangelist
Merit HR