The Second Biggest Lie We Tell in HR

© iQoncept -
© iQoncept -

I love that HR Pros get so worked up about performance management and delivering great feedback to employees about their performance and development. It’s one of things I really enjoy about HR – we help show people the way to becoming better versions of themselves.

Herein lies one of HR biggest problems, though — not everyone is going to get better. In fact, I think it’s the second biggest lie we tell employees:

“Everyone can be successful.”

Successful? Usually not without significant effort

No, they can’t! BusinessWeek had a good article last week called Be an Optimist without Being a Fool which examined this notion that there is a difference from having people believe they can be successful and the belief they can be successful without significant effort on their own part. From the article:

There are quite a number of motivational speakers and self-improvement books out there with a surprisingly simple message: believe that success will come easily to you, and it will. There is one small problem in this argument, however, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to stop anyone from making it: it is utterly false.

In fact, not only is visualizing “effortless success” unhelpful, it is disastrous. This is good advice to give only if you are trying to sabotage the recipient. It is a recipe for failure. And no, I’m not overstating it…

But there is an important caveat: to be successful, you need to understand the vital difference between believing you will succeed, and believing you will succeed easily. Put another way, it’s the difference between being a realistic optimist and an unrealistic optimist … Believing that the road to success will be rocky leads to greater success because it forces you to take action.”

Successful when faced with uphill odds

In my experience in HR, within the area of employee development, the times I saw people succeed the most were the times when I almost had to take the job away from someone.  I’m talking about those times when not only myself, but their supervisor, thought they had no shot to succeed, that they didn’t “have it” in them to reach the level that was needed, and we were up front enough to share this gift of feedback.

Facing the uphill odds, they fought for it and were successful. The times I’ve watched hiring manager after hiring manager blow hot air up employees butts about how successful they’ll be, those employees rarily ever come close to the high praise they were given.

When I was at Applebee’s the collective leadership called this “delivering a gift” – that’s what we called those “opportunity” conversations. Tim, we love you enough to give you this gift or letting you know what is holding you back, and what are the mountains in front of you.

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For those with some self-insight, this was indeed a gift — a gift that allowed you to make a decision. Was I willing to make the necessary changes to reach that next level, or was it time for me to go because I knew I wasn’t willing to put forth that effort? In the end, not everyone will be successful – in fact very few will be – so don’t tell them this lie because you are doing a disservice to your employees.

So, what’s the biggest lie we tell in HR?

We treat everyone equal.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


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