Sympathy For The Devil

John Whitaker Audacious Ideas, Change Management, Culture, Employee Relations, Good HR, John Whitaker

Besides the distinction of being a kick-ass jam, the Rolling Stones classic tune “Sympathy for the Devil” offers an interesting discussion on the duplicity of human nature. We’re a funny bunch of monkeys, my fellow HR professionals… as “good” as we may strive to be, we still are not above using whatever means necessary to achieve the ultimate goal. Lie, cheat, steal, or… make a deal with ol’ Fire-Britches himself.

Which brings us to Bill Belichick.

Naaaaaaah, I’ve already had my venting session about Billy. This is a more global look at the practice of lying in Human Resources—why are we compelled to lie, and why are others compelled to lie to us (outside of the fact that it occasionally wins SuperBowls)?

Well, in the case of the job seeker, it may be because the candidate experience is largely designed to force the hand of anyone hoping to make it past the “currently employed” knockout punch. Ask anyone who has been unemployed for a significant stretch of time whether or not honesty pays in their job search effort. It becomes easy to eliminate applicants when we have an SEO mentality. So, if it gets me in the door, I might forget to add my “end date” for my last (excuse me…”current”) employer. HR is the gatekeeper, and we designed a fence to keep them out… so the candidate may build a Trojan rabbit in which to gain access.

It’s not limited to just the job seekers. Think of the behaviors and actions you see from employees when the ground beneath them starts to shake. Ever been through an acquisition or merger? Are the rumors and innuendo you hear throughout the workplace generally of the optimistic or fatalistic variety? As the HR “insider,” we are often the point of contact for many employees trying to gain more certainty of their future. The universe will not tolerate a vacuum of information—so we stretch, embellish, guess, hypothesize (i.e., lieto employees instead of telling the truth, many times because we are handcuffed from sharing sensitive information.

How about the fabled recruiting pitch? Staffing is infamous for painting a rosy picture to potential candidates, some of which disappears like a fart in the breeze once we get the candidate on board.

Then there’s the sometimes awkward disposition phone call to the candidate(s) not making the cut. Do we explain to them that they talked with marbles in their mouth, had breath like a dragon, appeared to be a dedicated over-blinker, and/or had the energy level of a dial tone? Or, do we soft-pedal (lie) the feedback to let them know that “despite overall positive feedback, we have decided to pursue a stronger candidate.”

Employee investigations, performance reviews, even exit interviews—there is ample opportunity to utilize some fuzzy talk in our efforts to accomplish the greater good… or, to avoid the worser bad (I just made that up—it looks terrible, but I’m sticking with it).

The point is we just can’t help ourselves and, in some cases, it’s an occupational hazard. Our integrity will, at times, take a coffee break.

So, if you meet us, have some sympathy and some taste. I know it’s puzzling you, but it’s the nature of our game, so to speak.