Today’s post might sound like a sports post, but I promise it’s not. It’s actually about excuse-makers and blamers, and to make my point, you get treated to a story from my glorious forgettable football career. I worked hard, but I was missing that one key thing that was going to push me from benchwarmer to star: talent. No Rudy-esque memories for me, but one game did teach me a lesson on accountability that works for leaders both in and out of HR today.
Here’s the short version: The team drove three hours to a game through a raging rainstorm, with the temperature hovering at a balmy 33 degrees. I spent most of the ride working out a plan to avoid freezing to death once we got there — starters were thinking about playbooks and winning; benchwarmers like me were thinking about not turning into icicles.
When we pulled into the parking lot, Coach stood at the front of the bus, looked out at the freezing rain and then looked at the team. I thought he wanted to be there even less than I did. He gave us his lame standard pre-game pep talk, but at the end, he changed it up. He pointed out to the rain, the sloppy field and the opposing team that looked twice our size and said, “If there is any chance, any chance at all, that you are going to use what’s out there as an excuse today, then please just stay on the bus.”
We all got off the bus (some of us still less than 100% commited) and promptly lost the game, but that’s not important. Most locker room speeches are BS like you see on TNT weekend movies, but that “stay on the bus” line has stuck for me through my HR career. When you interview people for a living, you see candidates and HR leaders who run the gamut when it comes to accountability. The bus visual helps me see the choices people make between owning and blaming.
But how do you sniff out the blamers? Bad leaders with great pedigrees are everywhere, so you need to listen to them talk about a “manager who was not supportive” a “board that did not look long term,” how they “lost a promotion to a CEO’s pet” or how they “could not get enough resources.” Find people who own their failures and discuss how they could have made a bad situation better. That’s who you want, not Randy Moss.
Lastly, HR folks need to own it themselves. I don’t like to preach, because I am far from perfect, but a lot of HR people are going through the motions each day because they fell into the profession and don’t know how to get out. Go to an HR conference and listen to people talk about all of the things that are keeping them from being “true business partners.” Bad CEO, no Operations support, Finance doesn’t like me, can’t get the “seat,” etc. Here’s a suggestion to these HR benchwarmers: Please just stay on the bus, friends.
I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.