When You Screw Up in HR, Memorize and Say These 4 Magic Phrases…

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As HR pros, we all make mistakes.

Or say the wrong thing at the right time.

Or misjudge a situation from time to time.

But not everyone in our profession will confess to their screw ups — especially in stressful situations where the stakes are high.

However, I learned a very important lesson early in my career at Quaker Oats.

As a young HR director for a tiny division of the company, I reported to an amazing boss who relied heavily on my judgment and experience.

She had taken a chance and promoted me into the director role largely because of my relationships and knowledge of the organization.

But the job was a stretch for me and a bit over my head.

She knew it and I knew it.

But she was willing to roll the dice and bet on me.

So, I didn’t want to let her down or make her regret her decision.

*   *   *

But on one occasion, I had a horrible lapse in common sense and fell short of her expectations.

I really screwed up a very complex employee theft investigation and termination case.

My crime was that I didn’t involve our legal department and I didn’t ask all the right questions.

And as a result, I didn’t gather all the evidence we needed to reach a clear conclusion about the employee…who had been accused of theft twice before.

And my boss went absolutely ballistic!

She immediately called me on the carpet and demanded that I explain my error in judgment.

My defenses reared up. My pride and my aggressive instincts all screamed: “Fight! Defend yourself. Think up a good excuse.”

Thankfully, in a moment of sanity I took a more sensible approach. Here’s what I said…

“I was wrong. I’m sorry.  I know that I still have a lot to learn in this role.  Please let me fix it.”

*   *   *

Apparently, this reply from a young, cocky HR professional was not what she expected.

I’ll never forget the expression on her face: surprise, confusion, acceptance, and something that may have been… admiration.


In that moment, I knew I’d done exactly the right thing.

And as a result, I pushed the re-start button and immediately got our legal team involved.

And together with them, we mapped a detailed strategy to dig deeper into this case.

It was very hard work, but they were terrific. And I felt personally embarrassed by my initial attempts to do this all myself…trying to be the hero.

In any event…

When we finally completed a thorough investigation and presented our evidence to this employee — who had been a complete, utter jerk throughout the entire process — he broke down and. . .

Source: Success in HR

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