Let’s Stop Playing it So Safe

We all have pet peeves. One of my pet peeves is when we HR pros hide behind our mothers’ skirts.

We hide behind the skirts of our attorney–who (what do you know?) tends to give conservative advice. Or the skirts of compliance.

The skirts of the safe decision instead of the best choice. Or of doing what is required and nothing more. Of risk aversion, rather than risk management. Policy & Procedure.

Saying “No,” because it is so much easier and less complicated than saying, “Yes.”

Staying quiet rather than speaking up. Doing things the way we always have.

Coloring inside someone else’s lines instead of creating our own drawing.

Hiding behind the skirts means we’re seen as administrators, guardians, hall monitors, pencil pushers, police. It means we may come across as judgmental and haughty, inflicting our “HR tone” on anyone we decide steps out of line. Maybe our colleagues would take us much more seriously–and, heck,  like us more–if we would grow some cojones and act boldly based on our skill, knowledge, values and principles, rather than falling back on policies, procedures and regulations as our default.

Today I received an administrative position resume with two typos in the top third of the page. The safe, traditional HR response would be to roll one’s eyes in judgment and send a quick rejection letter. Instead (having recently updated my own resume and knowing how easy it is to make a stupid error after editing ad nauseum) I responded to her email, engaged her in conversation, and once she responded,  asked if she was open to feedback about her resume. When she responded affirmatively, I told her about the typos. She thanked me profusely. From her enthusiastic response, I  believe my small but out-on-a-limb gesture earned more goodwill than almost anything else I could have done. And yes, I know the conversation could just as likely have gone the other way, her reply could have been ungrateful and angry, because I’ve gotten those responses before.

This is just a tiny, almost inconsequential story of not hiding behind HR’s skirts. Sure, it wasn’t my job to bring the errors to her attention. I didn’t have to do it. It would have been much easier and faster to say nothing. But telling her seemed like the right thing and I took a risk. Please understand the purpose of this post is not to suggest proofreading resumes for all our applicants. We don’t have time for that. In this particular case, something called out to me about her and I knew that few others would be honest with her. I had the opportunity to be honest. Human. Kind. Rather than retreating to my safe place to rationalize doing nothing. This is just one small example to make a point.

When I encourage our profession to stop playing it so safe, I am also not advocating throwing caution to the wind to make foolish decisions that jeopardize your organization. I just think we all sometimes need reminders to stop and question our usual reactions and responses, and, where it makes sense, take risks to act in a new, different and more creative manner. And at the same time, we can work to avoid that HR haughtiness people hate–with a side benefit of possibly being taken more seriously.

photo by RG Photo

About the Author

Krista Francis

Krista Francis, PHR, is nonprofit HR Director and sometimes Acting Executive Director. She lives outside of Washington DC with her soccer-crazy hubby, two active teenagers, a neurotic cat and the best dog in the world, Rocky, aka Party like a Rockstar. In her loads of free time, she tries to keep her scooter running, tests margaritas for quality control purposes and blogs at aliveHR. You can connect with her on Twitter as @kristafrancis.


Krista Francis

@Louise, sometimes we just need to grow a set. And be kind.

@Andrea, we are having a conversation at work about just that topic (“no”) right now….

@Doug, my story was just one little example. I’m sure others would have much more compelling and bigger stories to illustrate the point.

@Joan, I’m a bit lost by the conversation. But, er, thanks for stopping by! 🙂

Louise Bowers

Krista, absolutely true. So often HR will ‘go with the flow’ instead of standing up and going against the tide. It takes bravery sometimes but the rewards are great. Treating others with compassion (read intelligence) and giving someone a helping hand even when you don’t need to shows great leadership.

Andrea Ballard

Saying “No,” because it is so much easier and less complicated than saying, “Yes.” is my own personal challenge! I always worry about fairness and treating people differently. But the truth is, people are different and sometimes need to be handled differently. It would be unfair not to do so, just because it is easier.

Thanks for the great post!

Joan Ginsberg

Holy shit! That was shared on Facebook by Shauna and I didn’t even look at the author info when I got here. SO SORRY, Krista! But obviously you are awesome! You’re both awesome!

Going back to bed . . .

Doug Shaw

I’m guessing that your story turned out how it did because you pointed out the typos as one human being to another. Great tale, thanks for sharing it.


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