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Why HR needs to learn to fail

Failure. It’s a concept that makes most of us feel hot under the collar, especially HR.
Why HR needs to learn to fail
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Recipe for disaster


While HR may want to mitigate failure, is there a benefit to succeeding second time round?

 

Failure. It’s a concept that makes most of us feel hot under the collar, especially HR. Some of the function’s core responsibilities work to pre-empt it. Yet, need it be this way? In fact in some areas of business thinking failure is seen as a necessary part of progression. Billionaire Richard Branson believes he wouldn’t have got where he is today without failure along the way. Separately, Amazon and Microsoft Founders, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, also believe in this ethos. So, why is HR afraid of not getting it right?

 

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently

Henry Ford

‘HR plays it too safe’

As a function that places huge importance on legal compliance it is no surprise that HR is keen to play by the book. “I think [HR] sometimes plays too safe as a function because we are afraid of upsetting people and of getting it wrong. But the only way we will drive change and move forwards is by experimenting with different approaches,” explains Wendy Baines, HR Director, UK & Ireland at AkzoNobel.

Yet, when experimenting with new policies and initiatives it can be difficult to predict with 100% certainty the outcome. This needn’t scare HR – especially as work is being re-defined constantly – and if they used this chance to experiment to their advantage it could change their reputation. “Sometimes, HR gets quite a stayed or safe reputation [because when we find something that works] we keep it for too long rather than thinking, yes that works, but it needs a refresh,” Baines adds.

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently

Henry Ford

Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure…It just means you haven’t succeeded yet

Robert H. Schuller

‘Our norms are being challenged’

With so much change on the horizon – in terms of Brexit, wider social and political landscapes, as well as digitisation – the HR function needs to ensure that it stays ahead of the curve as this will ensure that the business remains competitive. According to Aggy Russell, Head of People Strategy at Virgin Media, “our norms are being challenged” and the world is changing at an unrecognisable speed which means that HR should be agile and flexible and align itself to the challenges and opportunities that the business faces.

“We need to relook at the way we organise ourselves at work. With agility we need to adopt a sprint methodology with a bolder test and try it mentality. This requires us to learn fast and fail fast. And then to go again, implementing what we’ve learnt and measuring success as we go along,” she says. As a function that is so often averse to the concept of failure, Virgin Media’s Russell adds that HR needs to realise that failure can be good. “It means we’re constantly learning, keeping up and responding to the pace of change. Is it time for HR to learn to sometimes fail? Can we afford not to?”

 

‘Make mistakes and learn’

This mindset is corroborated by Vicki Russell, Instantprint’s Head of HR, who explains that businesses wanting to continue in today’s market need to be prepared to take risks, even if they “don’t end up standing the test of time”. To drive businesses forward, Russell places huge importance on HR representation on the Board in order to have greater influence over decisions that impact the business. “The function is playing it safe because it wants to keep the Board happy but if [HR] has got a voice on that Board who is pushing the agenda, culture and pushing the people strategy, then it goes hand-in-hand and in line with the organisational strategy as well,” she adds.

While HR will undoubtedly look for the best possible answer to a corporate problem or people strategy, it’s not to say that it will find the right solution first time round. With so much change on the horizon, HR should view this as the perfect opportunity to explore its options and take risks. “[Changing and implementing initiatives] is a learning process so if you do fail and you don’t get anything from it, you have at least learnt to do something next time and I think we shouldn’t be afraid as a function to do that: make mistakes and learn,” Instantprint’s Russell concludes.

Success is not a good teacher; failure makes you humble

Shahrukh Khan

 

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