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  • Debra Cadman

Confessions of an HR Director (Part 2)

Is it OK to admit you don't have all the answers?



A few weeks ago I had a crisis of confidence. I have been working hard on something for around 18 months – an exciting, brand new business. You might have read about it on LinkedIn – The HR Agenda. I had reached a point where I lost my footing – no longer certain about what I was doing and why I was doing it. I had invested a lot into its creation: time, money, effort, energy and care.


But I was starting to think that I had got it wrong. I had read somewhere that a good entrepreneur knows when to stop. So I thought that’s what I should consider. I had one miserable day where I kept all of this locked away inside me, struggled with it, wallowed in self-pity. I didn’t discuss it but shut myself in my office and became despondent.


Eventually, I structured a conversation with my team to explain that if a certain thing didn’t happen by a certain point (in the short-term future) then I would draw a line under itand walk away. This was not a good day and I didn’t behave as I would have wanted.

The next day, I reached out to my tribe to tell them what I had decided. And what happened next reminded me of the whole reason I had set up the HR Agenda in the first place.

They heard me out, they listened attentively and then gave me their thoughts and experience from their perspective. They didn’t tell me what to do, they just stated some “stuff”. They gave me ideas. They reminded me of the warm, positive response we have had from all kinds of HR leaders. They made me dare to think differently. I later reached out to someone else in my tribe and he did the same. He questioned, reassured and, most importantly, listened. None of them judged me, my situation or my behaviour. They helped me to realise that I was not on my own, I was not isolated. I had a community I could reach out to, to trust and learn from.


How ironic that I had forgotten the very thing that I was trying to create by setting up a community of practice. I realised how special this was, again. I realised I wanted to offer this to other people.


Working in HR can be a lonely job. In fact working at the top of your game in any organisation can be incredibly isolating – we are expected to know it all, especially when our role covers knowledge of all the specialist areas within a business. This particular episode was a harsh reminder of how isolated HR leaders can feel. It is OK to not have all the answers.


In the past I have been told that I wasn’t resilient or decisive because a) I sometimes showed emotion and b) I would involve others in my decisions. I like to share my concerns and challenges, talk them over with other people. I felt that I couldn’t always work out the best solution on my own and liked to get other people’s perspectives. I now realise that I am resilient and decisive because of both of these things. I believe that to have empathy and reach out to people is a strength, not a weakness.


I accept that it needs to be the right people when you work in HR because we deal with a lot of issues that the rest of the organisation is not privy to (and probably wouldn’t want to be either!), so there must be trust BUT it’s empowering, inspiring and wonderful.

It is OK to not have all the answers because absolutely no one does. Working together and exploring issues within a trusted environment equals a healthy approach, a clever harnessing of all the available knowledge and is an absolute privilege to use and take forward in our decision making.

Why is this story important to us as a profession? We all know that the nature of the work many people undertake in our organisations is changing or will change in the future. So how do we as HR professionals ensure that we continue to ensure that we have the right people, in the right place at the right time?


I think the future demands a new type of leader in HR… one that connects differently and is comfortable with not having all of the answers. We will have to use the intelligence of our networks to work through the issues, irrespective of hierarchy or sector, to make sense of the changes affecting our organisations.


We will need to ensure that we are:

· constantly learning

· reaching out beyond our own organisations to share experiences

· sufficiently empowered to take risks as we step into new territories

· confident enough to socialise our thinking in order to minimise any down-side in taking those risks

· able to learn from each other.


We will need to be collaborators offering on-going support to the people who work within our organisations and outside of it. We cannot afford to be complacent, to believe that we already know enough, to think that we cannot learn more. We can only do this by admitting it is more than OK to not have all the answers.

It makes me pleased and relieved that I have my own community of practice to reach out to. As an HR leader, why not make The HR Agenda yours?
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