HR excellence versus HR stupidity

I watched the aftermath of the HR Excellence awards unfold with the dismay of a once proud father seeing the return of their drunken offspring, black eyes, a bleeding nose and in the back of a cop car. (CAVEAT ONE: Before I go on, I should point out I wasn’t at the awards nor did I follow the events live on Twitter). I was sat at home drinking herbal tea and having an early night. We can’t all be rock and roll…….

Anyone who has been to an awards evening will know that the compere is always a point of contention. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re indifferent. Turns out the chap at HR Excellence created a new category, shockingly inappropriate. (CAVEAT TWO: I’m not defending any of the content or trying to argue that jokes apparently about child abuse are in anyway funny. Just no. I wasn’t there, but it sounds quite wrong).

So it turns out people were offended. So offended that some laughed, some Victor Meldrewed on the spot and some took to Twitter. None, that I’ve heard of were so offended or felt it appropriate to walk out. There was clearly still free booze to be had, sponsors to be pleased, and we have to balance indignation with a free bar now, don’t we? But shocking nonetheless and somebody, SOMEBODY had to take the blame.

The organisers.

And so the bile and outrage and pointed indignation was directed at the folks at HR Magazine. (CAVEAT THREE: Before it is dragged up by the gutter press, I have once been photographed having a glass of wine at an event with the Editor and Deputy Editor of the magazine, but I did not have sexual relations with that woman…..)

Anyhoo, the point is….. they’re still to blame.


But the thing is this. Can you imagine anyone who felt worse about this turn of events than the organisers? Can you put yourself in their place and think how that might feel? Can you imagine the sensation in the pit of the stomach? How they slept that night? The conversation in the office this morning?

As practitioners, as professionals we constantly espouse the idea of a no blame culture. And I personally don’t think it is helpful, productive or useful to point out loudly and openly where things went wrong. I do, however, believe in learning, and when things go badly wrong most people need time to regroup and to reappraise.

Banging on constantly about the way in which they’ve fucked up is hardly productive or helpful. Nor is it thoughtful, grown up or intelligent. It is the behaviour of vacuous, intellectually stunted, egotistical, smug idiots who constantly take the moral high ground and are as risk adverse as a crash helmeted slug in a refrigerator full of lettuce.

When you find out things have gone wrong, guess what? They’ve gone wrong. They’re not going wrong, likely to go wrong or even potentially wrong. They’re full fat, 100% pure, total high energy WRONG. And you can’t change that. When things go wrong, most people feel bad. Really fucking bad.

We have a choice how we react, we can support, help, advise, nurture and console. Or we can jump and down, point the finger of blame, claim second sight and superiority. It’s a choice and the choice we make reflects on our practice and on us. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I’m not religious, but there seems to be something in that?

I want the HR profession to be bold, to be edgy, to take risks and to push the boundaries. Sometimes that will mean that we get things wrong. And if every time something goes wrong we behave like a bunch of puritanical know it alls, we will take less risks and be less exciting and less progressive. Maybe this was a risk that went wrong. Whatever, I’m sure the guys at HR mag are regretting it now, and I’m sure as hell that they don’t need the idiots rubbing it in their face.


  1. Matt Charney · July 2, 2014

    Nice post, Neil. And amen.

  2. Julie · July 3, 2014

    I did not follow any of the HR Excellence debacle, but your words ring true to so so many situations where the unofficial organizational culture is one of blame. It’s done. Move on. And for pete’s sake (and everyone else’s) learn from it.

    “It’s a choice and the choice we make reflects on our practice and on us.” This.

    Very well put.

    • Neil · July 5, 2014

      Thanks Julie, you’re right this extends beyond this example. I’m just amazed at how quickly we forget to practice what we preach.

  3. TheOneCrystal · July 3, 2014

    Agreed, Neil. Well said.

  4. Simon Heath · July 3, 2014

    I was there. In the context, I found the compere offensive and his onstage antics to be to the detriment of the hard-working people being honoured. I said so on Twitter. I’ll take the tag of idiot if that’s what doing so makes me. But I happen to think that the only person responsible was the man himself. I suppose I could have walked out but as I was there to support nominated friends (I did offer to pay for my own drinks) and everything else about the evening was brilliant and the organisers clearly mortified, I stayed. We can therefore add hypocrite to idiot I suppose.

    • Neil · July 5, 2014

      I agree Simon, each person is responsible for their own actions and looking at their own conscience. I didn’t see your tweets, so I guess it comes down to a question of how you feel, not what I say.

  5. janetwebb · July 3, 2014

    Hi Neil, I also watched the awards vicariously via twitter. So I Googled the chap in question and watched a couple of his videos. He was funny. Really funny. Different, refreshing and – well funny. How was anyone to know that on the night he would let his appropriateness radar go walkabout?
    You are spot on. Sadly nowadays when something goes wrong SOMEBODY MUST BE BLAMED!!

    • dougshaw · July 5, 2014

      Janet wrote more or less what I wrote and deleted a zillion times. I’m glad she did – her note is much better than my failed attempts to capture something useful from this mess.

      In addition, I thought some of the stuff that appeared on Twitter in response to the guy was questionable at best. And not all of it was.

      I appreciate you did not mention anyone by name, and for what it’s worth, I thought the handful of tweets Simon sent at the time were the kind of thing that anyone, me included, might have sent in response to what seemed to be going on (yes – seemed – I wasn’t there either).

      Something went wrong. It happens. Oops – move on.

      PS – I’m having a recurring nightmare about crash helmeted slugs attacking my broccoli plants – can you recommend a cure for this please?

      • Neil · July 5, 2014

        Hi Doug, I didn’t mention any individual by name because I saw it from different sources and I wasn’t referring to one specific individual. Although there was one person who espouses a very different approach to the one I saw them taking and I challenged them on this directly. So it certainly wasn’t meant to be aimed at Simon.

        The thing about slugs with crash helmets is that they always think the attack will come from above. The trick here is to look at the soft belly of opportunity. My advice, choose to “a salt” them that way. 🙂

    • Neil · July 5, 2014

      Thanks Janet, that’s the bit that gets me. Do people think that a due diligence process wasn’t followed, that a briefing wasn’t given? Sometimes things go wrong and we need to learn, not blame.

  6. Wendy Jacob · July 4, 2014

    I echo Janet; he’s been on the line up twice when I’ve been at the Comedy Store and both times he was very funny and not at all controversial (though admittedly they’re short stints). Hardly like they’d have picked someone risqué on purpose and, while I don’t condone such humour, I doubt he meant to offend. Everyone cocks up good and proper sometimes. Always easier to point fingers when it’s not you though…

    • Neil · July 5, 2014

      Thanks Wendy, I couldn’t agree more. And I guess the question is this, “When I was wrong and something went wrong for me, what behaviour would have been the most helpful from those around me?”

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