So we Caught the Car. Now What?!

dog car

There’s been a lot of talk in the HR blogosphere lately around “TrenchHR” (HR professionals actually practicing in a corporate environment – private or public) needing to get more active in publicly promoting, advancing, and influencing the practice of Human Resources (See HR Capitalist, HR Whisperer, CareerLifeConnection, FistfulofTalent). The perceived imbalance between what we hear from outside consultants/pundits and what we hear from those in the trenches appears to be the impetus to this trend’s emergence. I’m not here to argue one perspective is more important than the other; but I’ve been preaching the dangers of this imbalance to the profession for quite some time.

I’ll be the first to extol the progress we’ve made from being administrative to operational to organizational to strategic. Have we finally “arrived”? I don’t know, that’s just a stupid question. But we’ve changed and I think we’re better for it. Here’s the problem, though: A lot of us are still ambivalent about that change. We thought we wanted it, we worked hard to get it, and now that we got it we’re not really sure how to use it…wisely. We are the proverbial dog that finally caught the car…ohhhhhh shit!

Say what you want, but I think there is one large obstacle inhibiting the average HR professional’s ability to wield this new power wisely: The Fear of Failing. We are, after all, programmed to be judicious, to play the middle, to counsel and console, to protect and serve. We’re glad they’ve taken notice, but now we’re scared we’ll mess it up. We are constantly trying to prove our value, lest they call us “impostors.” We are generally not entrepreneurial (which, by the way, most consultants are) and haven’t learned that failure is a major ingredient to success. Successful entreprenuers thrive on failure – they carry it like a badge of honor – and they know it makes them smarter, faster, stronger. How many times have you been told by someone (outside of HR) that what you’re proposing won’t work? We wouldn’t have one-tenth of today’s wonders if the people behind them had listened to those fools. And what if it doesn’t work? Who the ‘f cares?! You shouldn’t… and so what if they do?! Stop paralyzing yourself for fear of how your contributions will be received. Inaction is neither success nor failure…it’s just plain old nothingness. And nothingness will get you – and the profession – no where.

Photo Credit: ThePrytzFamily

  • HR Whisperer (aka Heather Vogel)

    Excellent points – we’re at the cusp, ready to make the leap to the next generation of HR. We need to fail sometimes in order to learn. But not risk – and fail blindly – we need to prepare and find that light of sight. That’s the part I think is still missing. As the kids say in the back seat, “are we there yet?” Nope, not yet.

  • Steve Browne

    Charlie – So dead on it’s scary !! This is not only a major obstacle in our profession, it’s what we teach others. I’ve often said, “Conformity is overrated !!”

    My boss and I were discussing the recent article on Apple (“Apple Nation” in the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company) where it says: “Steve Jobs has often cited this quote from Henry Ford: ‘If I’d have asked customers whaty they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’”

    He said that’s what we can’t do in our Company and encouraged me to make sure HR isn’t just keeping it’s blinders on to get a faster horse.

    HR needs to define the edges of where we are going and quit trying to maintain the middle of the pack and don’t “upset” anyone mentality.

    Thanks for putting this out there !! I hope everyhone takes heed and works with this.

  • Charlie

    @Heather – thanks for helping promote the cause…it’s a good one I think. I know you’ve been “in the trenches” and I look forward to hearing more of your perspective – it’s important to other HR professionals who are living it and breathing it every day.

    @Steve – love that quote from Henry Ford. asking the customer what they want is important. and we are so damn good at doing it. BUT, sometimes we need to help the customer understand what they really need. in the world of HR, our customers often don’t know what they don’t know. we’re really the only ones that can tell them. now we just have to learn not to be scared of failing when doing so. thanks!

  • John Jorgensen

    Charlie, great post. Too many people in the trenches are too intimidated by their higher-ups that failure is not an option. As you point out, failure is something that happens with most every new innovation. Hell, I am willing to bet the guy inventing the wheel didn’t hit the round idea first time out. As a mutual friend of ours says, “fail spectacularly”. You can’t move out and up by staying in your comfort zone.

  • Mary Gray

    Truer words have never been printed. Thanks for putting this “out there”.

  • Charlie

    @john – love the “fail spectacularly” reference. why the hell not?!

    @mary – glad you can identify with it and thanks for sharing as much. let’s help our HR colleagues fail…counterintuitive? yep. the right approach? even more ‘yep’!

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