That's the way it goes right? "Theoretically" or "I almost certain" or something similar - but when we in HR go into the executives office around budget time - we tend to be not so specific. It's alright, the boys and girls in other departments tend to not use too many specifics if possible, as well. The boss looks at you and says, "So, what are we going to get for spending this much?" And that's when we start to dance. It should reduce turnover, it's suppose to improve engagement, etc., etc. Kick-ball-change.
We also tend to go down this river of uncertainty when we speak of our annual goals and we usually end up hitting the rapids pretty hard. We don't want to put ourselves so far into a box that we end up failing, but we also want to show our executives and counterparts what we accomplished, so it becomes very difficult water to navigate. So, in 2011 I'm vowing to live in reality and stop focusing on theory. I was reminded of this recently when reading an article 2010: When Leadership Hit the Rapids, from the Harvard Business Review, by Gill Corkindale when he spoke of getting comfortable living in the white water:
Occasionally, I do find myself referring to one writer who presciently declared that leaders needed to get used to "permanent white water," a reference to the dangerous rapids he saw ahead for leaders. In his 1996 book, Learning as a Way of Being, Peter Vaill said leaders had to learn to navigate these rapids—surprising, unusual events and challenges that are often outside the bounds of experience. And even though many of these challenges are one-offs, leaders cannot brush them aside as they will return in a different form to test them. In order to cope with this, leaders must have strong values and become resilient, not collapse at the first hurdle.
What does this have to do with HR and Theory vs. Reality?
A ton! Leaders who lead and live with theory tend to collapse when the reality of situations present themselves. "Wait a minute, that's wasn't suppose to happen!" For those living in reality, these situtions, this White Water, becomes the norm - they adjust and readjust without panic and help their organizations get back on path. We in HR are frequently placed in these positions, and we have a choice to make - continue down a wayward path of theoretical models or face reality and work to make things better for all of those stuck in the middle.
So, this year when you go in and present your plans, your goals, your dreams - make sure you add some reality to counteract your theory. Go in and tell them: "I plan on this project, reducing our turnover by 4%, but I can't guarantee it. All of our research shows we can get 4-8% improvement, I'm estimating conservatively, and hoping for more. I willing to stand behind 4% and deliver." Your executives will appreciate the straightforward tact, which they don't get enough of, and you'll find reaching your goals to be much easier and fulfilling this year.