Oh, We F*cked That Right Up

Over the years, we across HR have been guilty of mistakes. Some right stonkers where we chose to implement a policy, made decisions about working stuff, poorly delivered a workshop, or any number of things that we just fucked up.

And, there has been much talk over the years about authenticity across HR. How we have to show up and be brave and honest about failures. How we have to be ‘adults’ and communicate with others as ‘adults’.

But, we’re just really bad at talking about how we’ve fucked up. Instead we have to talk about lessons learned. Or we have to talk about reflective practise. Or we have to talk about stop/start/continue. Or we have to do root cause analysis. What we don’t do, is just accept things got fucked up and we need to re-think the solution we went with.

One arena where we insist on this form of toxic positivity is at conferences and seminars and keynotes. But why do we hear about it in those particular contexts? Because people want to be motivated or inspired when they pay good money, apparently. Or, people want the opportunity to hear what worked really well, and take back those lessons.

Those are good things for sure. Absolutely we want to hear about success stories, and I don’t doubt we want to be inspired. But, we’re also just really bad at being honest about when things went properly sour and we had to do a lot of remedial work to make things better. Cos that’s just not good news, is it? And it doesn’t put our business/organisation in good light does it? We can’t bring our own company into disrepute. That would be career suicide, right?

But here’s the thing. Why is it we only hear about the really bad fuck ups when they become high profile things? Yes, we should hear about the high profile cases, but what about the normal fuck ups that happen, but we have to positively spin into an opportunity for learning?

Because somewhere along the line, we as HR are involved in those fuck ups. And HR has a bad habit of only discussing things in the positive. We are too focused on being overly positive, even in the face of clearly bad practice. Be that bad compensation, bad office moves, bad recruitment, bad management of an investigation or bad learning solutions, we are those bad practices.

At conferences and the likes, I’d love to see companies be able to stand up and say, you know what? We fucked this shit right up. Here’s what we tried to do, here’s how it played out, and we got it so wrong. We had to do all this remedial work, and man it was hard, and we had to do a lot of re-work, but this is where we are now. Of course we learned lessons, but what we should have done are these things to ensure we never got to that bad situation in the first place.

Importantly, we don’t have to throw anyone or our own companies under the bus. We can have honest and open conversations where we discuss things as adults. Not everything we do has to be rose tinted, or covered in opportunities for learning or being an unexpected good thing for us to do. Sometimes it’s ok to just admit, “Oh, we fucked that right up”.

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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