When my son was little, anytime he came home with a scrape or bruise and we asked what happened, he’d look at it in surprise and say, ‘fell down.’ I’m not sure what the words ‘fell down’ meant to him, but he wasn’t describing the act of falling. He was busy playing with his friends, and the random bump or bruise didn’t slow him down.
I ‘fell down’ recently. I said something thoughtless to a business acquaintance, and I feel terrible, because I inadvertently insulted this acquaintance. It wasn’t that I said something untrue, but my phrasing was unkind. This person and I were passing acquaintances, so I can’t even go back and apologize. But they mentioned it to someone we know in common, and in the way of the world, they probably told two people, who told two people, and so it goes. I may be making too big a deal of this; perhaps I’m not that important to all these people, and no one is really talking about me. But what if they are?
We are known by our words and our deeds, not by our intentions. And the only real social capital we have is to be trustworthy. We need to be people that others can trust. According to dictionary.com, trust means reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
This is true for everyone, but for those of us who are HR practitioners, there’s an added layer. The employees in our company must not only believe that we will do what we say, but they must trust our motives. They must be confident that we have their best interests in mind as we create strategy, set policy, and make recommendations to senior executives.
Our goal as HR professionals is to do good work. We want to improve the lives of the employees we serve and foster better business outcomes at the same time. We believe that the two are not only not incompatible, but that they are closely linked. And on our best days, we live this out in multiple ways, deepening our own sense of career satisfaction.
And yet, we all make mistakes. We get busy with the day-to-day urgency of our work, and we ‘fall down.’ Sometimes, like in my recent situation, we say something we wish we could take back. Sometimes we might get caught up in a new and shiny technology and ignore the impact it will have on some of our staff. What if we design a new policy but we don’t test it out well, or we don’t think it through enough, and it ends up hurting the very staff we hope to serve? What happens when the outcome of our decisions or actions brings about the very opposite of what we strive for everyday?
First, when this happens, and it will, forgive yourself. While we must own the impact of our actions, we also know our own intentions. It can be easy to get into our own heads and get mired in our own failures. Don’t get stuck there, but you do need to take responsibility. Trust is built through transparency. Own the impact of your actions and decisions and make them right where you can. If you do this consistently, then those around you will trust your integrity and believe in your good intentions.
I can’t go back and change what I said. But I can learn from it, and do better in the future. I hope that if those two people are telling two people, that they all take a closer look at me going forward. They may be looking to catch me in the act, but what they’ll see is someone who fell down and got right back up. They’ll see someone who does her best to be trustworthy. HR pros, let’s continue to act in a manner that invites a closer look.