An HR Lesson, Care of BP (and Radiohead): No Surprises!

no surprises

There are lots of reasons I think BP is headed for the deep dark depths of the ocean floor; to fix the oil leak is just one of them. The most telling, though, is the way Tony Hayward responded to the congressional committee last week. Put aside the arguments as to whether or not he should have been there in the first place or whether the US has any right to ask him to be there. It’s moot – he was there and BP agreed to let him be there as their supreme leader. His complete abandon for a front-and-center responsibility and his self-proclaimed ignorance of the decision making leading up to the disaster is not so much a sad commentary on Tony Hayward as it is BP – its culture and its woeful state of its leadership team. I mean, if you’re going to throw your CEO under the bus, at least require that he takes complete and utter responsibility for the company’s shortfalls while doing so. He didn’t even do that and now he’s being pushed out of the organization any way. I don’t feel sorry for the guy, but I do feel sorry for the company’s employees who have to live in that environment. Why isn’t the leadership team standing up and taking a unified and collective blame not only for this disaster, but also for a fundamental flaw in their organization: no one at the top knows what the ‘f is going on. Sure it’s a big company. But since when was it ok for the leadership team not to be close to what was going on in the business? Who the hell wants to work with (or be associated with) a leadership team that is comprised mostly of smoke and mirrors?

Guess what: if you’re an HR Leader and something ain’t going right in your practice, it’s your fault. Accept that. It is your responsibility to know what you need to know. One of the most valuable things you can do for your team is to help them figure out how best to regularly disseminate important information to you – good and bad and whether solicited or not.  Help them figure out what you need to know and what you could care less about. Give them the venue for doing so. And give them the confidence that there is no thing as “bad news.” It’s just data that you need to do your job effectively on behalf of the entire HR team. It’s no different than how you treat your kids. You know your children will stop telling you the truth if every time they do so you blow up, assign blame, and then send them to their rooms. They should be rewarded for telling the truth even if the truth really stinks.

I always ask my direct reports to live by one very simple principle: No Surprises. I don’t care if something is f’d up as long as I know about it as soon as you figure out its f’d up. If you fail to tell me, that’s something we’ll work on. Once.  And I’ll take the blame any way…even if it clearly was your fault.  Although that’s not an explicit responsibility in my job description, it’s one I take seriously. No amount of finger pointing is going to solve the problem at hand – for BP or for any organization faced with a crisis.  Put an end to the blame game and start focusing on the fix.  Every thing else is just a waste of (our) time.

Photo Credit: Cleepr

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