I screwed up (again)

As the events of the last couple of days of Cummingsate have shown us, it doesn’t matter how clever, how senior, how powerful one becomes, we are all capable of getting stuff wrong. Watching the press conference, and putting aside for one moment the reason for it, I had some personal sympathy as journalist after journalist lined up to ask him ostensibly the same question, picking over the details again and again.

The sympathy came because, in my own small way, I was also recovering from getting something pretty badly wrong and figuring out how to set best to articulate it in writing. To be clear, this is in no way a commentary on the Dominic Cummings situation – I’ll leave that to those that are better qualified – more a note to self and maybe to others.

  1. You have to take it on the chin – The first and most important thing about getting things wrong is that you have to own it. The immediate desire is to try to explain and rationalise and whilst that is absolutely critical too (see below), you have to start from a position of accepting your sub optimal outcome.
  2. Differentiate between the what and the who – It is very easy to start an inner self narrative, “I screwed up because I’m useless” or “I’m just no good at these things”. At the moment you’re dealing with a thing – whether that is a conversation, a piece of work, an event doesn’t really matter. It is too easy to generically attribute blame to some fundamental personality fault and it doesn’t help you learn.
  3. Try not to over steer – Trying to get perspective quickly is important and there are people around you that can help – but you have to choose wisely. Some will lead you not to follow numbers 1 and 2 above. They’ll tell you that you’re wonderful and the other person/people are idiots or they’ll tell you you’re an idiot and they could have done it so much better – “I’m not sure I would have handled it like that”. Helpful.
  4. Get analytical with it – In order to feel better, to learn and to improve you need to start getting analytical. What exactly went wrong? What was the timeline? If you could go back and do-over, which bit would you change, how and why? What would the impact of that amendment been to the end result? How do you know? Contrary to popular practice and belief, this isn’t best done with cold sweats at 4am, but in the light of day with a steady mind.
  5. Move on – Once you’ve been through this process, you need to let it go. Take the learning, remember the feelings and emotions, but contextualise them as a power to take you forward, not to take you back. “I don’t want to ever feel like that again, so to avoid that I’m going to do xx”. Of course others will risk drag you back, depending on the context, but that takes you back to number 1. Own it, acknowledge it, learn from it, move on from it.

Not a bad process to follow if one of your team or colleague gets something wrong either. You know, it happens to us all. Right?

If not now, then when?

People will have a range of views on the HR profession, I’m ok with that. It may not surprise you to know that I don’t come to work to either fulfil or disprove a myriad of perceptions of my worth or usefulness.  It may surprise people to know that the reason I do come to work is to steer the organisation that employs me at the time to do the right thing for the people it employs.

Obviously if you take this to the macro level, profitable organisations can invest back in the workforce, successful organisations ensure they have capital investment, commercial organisations ensure they can see and instigate the opportunities that lead to success and profitability – and so the cycle continues.

But that’s not the reason I get out of bed in the morning, the reason I do is to try to create the place to work that my colleagues want to be in. Even if that will inevitably involve some bitching and moaning along the way – you can’t please all the people all of the time…

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen a rise in calls for “HR to step forward”, or how strong HR is needed more than ever. The clarion call of a crisis, once again being used to throw the profession into the light. Remember 2007?

Whilst it starts with obvious decisions about furloughing, protection of wages, short term working, redundancies, protection of health, safety and wellbeing, managing remote workers and resource and contingency planning. It extends to issues such as executive reward, dividends, culture, engagement and productivity and post crisis recovery. There is no doubt that there is a lot for us to navigate.

The cynic in me wants to ask why it requires a global pandemic for the profession to find some backbone and step into the role that it should be playing every day? Why it requires something of such magnitude to bring a focus on the contribution that we make? But I guess beggars can’t be choosers, and as a collective we have been beggars for far too long.

We have seen and will continue to see some shocking examples of bad HR practice through this event, we need to hold these organisations and decision makers to account. But if we genuinely want to learn and grow from this, we also need to celebrate those organisations that are doing the right thing, protecting their employees and stepping up and into the right leadership space.

Because frankly, if not now then when?

Inclusion matters more than ever

Somewhere close to you now,

There will be people feeling crippling anxiety that they cannot or do not want to show.

There will be people hiding conditions or vulnerabilities that they carry silently each day.

There will be people who are carers, not wanting to let this get in the way.

There will be people who wish they were carers, who don’t need reminding they’re not.

There will be people with deep held views about medical treatments and procedures.

There will be people looking for answers in their faith.

There will be people who fear that their difference makes them a target.

There will be people who struggle with addiction and dependency.

There will be people who suffer at the hands of another.

There will be people who worry constantly about someone they love,

And there will be people grieving in loss.

These people are our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours and our family. As they were last week, last month and last year. When we aren’t together, inclusion matters more than ever.

 

 

The best way out

I’ve had a paperweight on my desk for about the last 30 years. It contains a quote, I believe, from Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through”. The idea of having a paperweight in this day and age may seem somewhat superfluous, but the wisdom is something that endures beyond its physical home.

When things change, when we are under pressure, anxious, when we struggle to understand which way is up and which is down, we can understandably lose momentum. Many of us in organisations undergoing physical or economic turmoil will be tempted to think, “what’s the point?”. At the same time there are students all over the country who have had their lives thrown up in the air and been served a mixed diet of uncertainty and confusion.

In these circumstances, in these moments. It is tempting to stop.  Inaction, unless a conscious and considered choice, is rarely the answer. It seldom makes us feel better nor does it help others around us. Our psyche, our health and wellbeing requires us to feel that we are progressing, even when it feels almost impossible to do so.

The best way out, is alway through. It starts with small steps, slow, steady steps. Placing one foot in front of the other and starting to move. We cannot predict the future, we cannot control the uncontrollables, that was the case six months ago, a year ago, five years ago. It is the same today.

Whatever challenge you’re facing into, whatever uncertainty has been thrown in your way. There is only one direction that you can travel. Forward. And I promise that when you do, it will see you out and through.