What can HR learn about UNDP’s crisis response mechanism?

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was created in 1965 by the United Nations General Assembly, as a way to contribute to the improvement of the nations’ quality of life.

UNDP promotes change and centralizes the knowledge, experience and resources necessary to help people build a better life and is responsible for implementing the Sustainable Development goals.

Throughout its 56-year history, the program has proven its effectiveness in managing conflict. Faced with prolonged and complex crisis situations in the world, the UNDP has been able to implement a way of working to meet short-term needs and lay the foundations for a more resilient future.

Its experience has allowed it to act in nations such as Syria, whose conflict has been raging since 2010, to provide livelihoods, build infrastructure and promote peace.

In Iraq, still with almost 2 million displaced, already 4 million have been able to return home and enjoy better education, health care and infrastructure.

They have also intervened in Yemen, where conflict, drought and the most aggressive cholera epidemic in modern history have contributed to one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes. Despite this, by 2019, some 320,000 people had received food, work and electricity.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems faced by the UNDP in recent history was the Ebola virus crisis in Sierra Leone in 2014, which resulted in the deaths of some 4,000 people.

While at first it was only a problem from the virus as such, it had difficult consequences for the African nation.

A new way of working means leveraging resources and forging more effective partnerships to deliver assistance so that countries and communities are better prepared for the future. Moses Sichei, Economist for the UNDP in Sierra Leone explained that the economic and social impact were no longer a medium to long-time issue, it was a today issue.

People’s survival is at stake now. So, we are now dealing with Ebola and at the same time we have to deal with these problems towards the impact of the virus on the households, especially in terms of their income, livelihoods, human development, education, health as well as governance.

If we extrapolate the UNDP to the business world, we could say that we are facing a large organization with a presence in 178 countries, so there is much that companies can learn from the crisis management of this organization.

Deployment Mechanism

The program has offices in different parts of the world that, in addition to the traditional work for which it was created, are prepared and have a deployment mechanism for when crisis situations arise in those countries.

The UNDP has a group of experts, advisers and partners trained in different areas and ready to move to the place where they are needed. For example, in 2020, the program’s Crisis Office facilitated more than 847 deployments in more than 122 countries.

When deployment becomes necessary, the program dispatches a first group of advisers, also known as First Responders, with experience in crisis situations and technical matters and the ability to be in the field of work for a 3-6 months period. They also have strong analytical, interpersonal, teamwork, communication, and stress management skills, with a proven ability to deliver timely and quality results under pressure.

It then has the Stand-by Partnership Program, in which a pool of technical experts can be deployed to UNDP to enhance its crisis response capacity and can also strengthen the capacity of partner countries for crisis preparedness and risk reduction.

Finally, there’s the Global Policy Network Roster, a consultant deployment mechanism which maintains pre-vetted consultants for quick support to UNDP Country Offices.  The primary purpose of this roster is to deploy Crisis Prevention and Recovery technical experts for crisis preparedness, response, recovery, and other enabling functions in a time efficient manner.

What can HR and technology learn?

If an area within organizations has become vitally important since the crisis due to the pandemic that COVID-19 has generated, it has been Human Resources (HR). It has been a challenge to have to face and adapt to new situations such as remote work, attend to the needs of the employee, coordinate the necessary resources so that they can fulfill their tasks remotely, make sure that payments were made on time and, more importantly, to ensure the physical and mental safety that this new reality meant.

HR also had to juggle to keep the morale and productivity of the teamwork high, at a time of so much uncertainty when not knowing if the jobs were at risk or not.

A survey conducted by the strategic consulting firm McKinsey & Company during the pandemic to 190 CEOs of various companies revealed that the largest investment they plan to make in the coming months in planning, strategy and workforce change to be able to cope with the new trends that have emerged as a result of the virus crisis.

Another of the areas that has experienced the most progress within organizations during the pandemic have been those linked to the area of technology. This is due to the strong boom in digital software and applications that allow remote work. It should not be surprising then that this is another of the areas where companies most plan to invest, although, curiously, the independent workforce in this area has increased significantly because it responds more quickly in times of crisis.

It is in this part where we want to establish comparisons with the United Nations Development Program, because periodically commissions reviews of its deployment mechanism to ensure systems remain up to date and new technology and ideas are brought on board.

We are also seeing this updating of new technologies within organizations, thanks to the fact that employers are aware that new platforms and applications not only support company operations, but also make connection and communication easier.

Just as the UNDP uses a mechanism to deploy advisers, consultants and specialists to reach places where they are needed, business organizations could use the same principle, only that, thanks to teleworking and the presence of trained professionals in different parts of the world, deployment could be accomplished in a matter of hours, thanks to the use of technology.

The use of this new technology, as well as what the issue of costs means during times of crisis, has also demanded a training process for personal development and to know how to adapt to changing business environments.

Digital training has been one of the great characters for organizations during the crisis. Thanks to it, companies have been able to train their staff in essential skills, such as company operations. Improve the ways of working, now that we have a hybrid between face-to-face and remote. And develop leadership, which allows working in more focused teams and with a faster model in decision-making.

The crisis has also caused the modification of some behavior patterns, as well as the objectives and performance plans in the workplace, thus deepening the feeling that performance management systems are losing credibility.

In addition to the use of technology as a tool to maintain contact with remote employees, it could also be necessary to train teams, as the UNDP has, to allow it to handle these types of situations. It would be, as we mentioned in previous paragraphs, a group of people with strong analytical, interpersonal, teamwork, communication, and stress management skills, with a proven ability to deliver timely and quality results under pressure.

It is also necessary to form a group similar to the Stand-by Partnership Program, so that experts are trained to improve the response capacity to the crisis, as well as to reduce the risks derived from it.

The opportunities to develop critical situations management groups within organizations today is much easier, thanks to the technological platforms that allow their training at a distance and even do what we could call a “virtual deployment” of these groups to handle difficult situations in case we are talking about an organization with global reach.

Companies, and more specifically their HR areas, have a whole new way to go.

Beyond the crisis that COVID-19 has caused, the new reality forces them to change the schemes on conflict resolution. Telecommuting is here to stay and the technology is there to support that trend. It is up to organizations to learn how to handle and resolve not only this crisis, but the many that are sure to come.


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