It’s called Human Resources, not Robot Resources

  • Ashley Howden
  • 11 April 2017

After 25 years in business, I sit here late on a Sunday evening (having polished off yet another board pack) contemplating what I’ve learnt. And it’s the same old realisation that I keep coming back to. Namely, no matter how difficult it might be – it always pays to have the humility to know when to let something go. To bail rather than fail, if you will. And when our colleagues are faced with this very same challenge, be it in their professional or personal lives, nothing is more important than treating them with compassion and humanity. We’re not robots, after all.

Don’t be afraid of ‘bailure’ 

I can’t help but feel strangely privileged to have experienced such a gamut of emotions through business and commercial dealings. I’ve known success when I believed it would happen; and success when it was least expected. I’ve endured failure when it was so inevitable, I lacked the faith to even try to course-correct. And I’ve experienced the gut-punch of a GFC, been mauled by creditors and denigrated by the market just when I thought I was on the cusp of success.

I’m glad. The humility generated from my failures has tempered my (somewhat ridiculous) entrepreneurial appetite for risk. And, in doing so, has left me with a conviction in what I’ve coined ‘bailure’: when something isn’t viable, I’m not afraid to bail. This means that I now look far more judiciously at the potential of a business, initiative or project right from the start. As a result, I’m less likely to perpetually brew, and drink, my own Kool-Aid.

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Humanity comes first – in and out of the office

Over time, I’ve found that I place no distinction between a personal identity and a professional one. I’ve never met someone who’s a legend when they wear jeans, but an asshat when they don corporate attire. I’ve been reminded of this of late, as a number of friends have travelled through turbulence in their personal lives and yet continued to deliver professionally (really, what choice do they have). But, no matter how good we’ve become at compartmentalising, I’d suggest that it’s genuinely impossible to shelve feelings of frustration, pain and torment – either as we enter an office, or as we leave it. We bring that shit to our work; or we take it home with us.

The notion that we should learn to accept ‘bailure’ (or, of course, failure) in our businesses, and yet assume our teammates will batten down the hatches on similar personal experiences is just unrealistic. Surely the relationships forged in the crucible of a common vision in business, where we spend most of our waking hours, should result in a pervasive sense of camaraderie, solidarity and respect.

I’m genuinely touched by some of the narratives I’ve heard about the support people have provided their colleagues, both inside and outside of office walls. After all, if we leave our humanity at the door then we might as well rename the department 'Robot Resources’. And I really don’t want to see that happen. While leadership should be inspirational, it should also be pastoral. I don’t think for a minute that I strike that note as frequently as I’d like, but even with my atonal attempts I’d still encourage anyone leading a company, programme, or team to look hard at themselves in the mirror and ask ‘If I was in that situation, how would I like to be treated?’  

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