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Damage Control: Fixing Your Image After You’ve Screwed Up

Mar 2, 2020 | 7m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Typical mistakes that happen in the workplace, and how to cope with them
  • Why office romances need not signal the end of one of your career prospects
  • Communicating appropriately when things go wrong


When Mistakes Happen

Mistakes happen. But how you cope with the aftermath – whether you’ve made the mistake, or are managing someone else who has – is what you should now focus on.

Mistakes can range in their level of severity and impact. It could be a case of drinking too much at an office gathering and passing an untoward comment or two, blowing a pitch and losing a key client, or even a bad hiring decision. Your response to these mistakes will be very situational, and should take into account that the people involved are probably feeling embarrassed or worried about their actions.

Hiring Decisions

Errors in judgement can sometimes be on the hiring level. As a HR person, I’m always watching the body language of colleagues in the room. Wrong hires are sometimes easy to spot. If people roll their eyes or switch off when a person is talking, it shows that the speaker isn’t really having the impact that they are likely aiming for with the team. Those non-verbal cues are also a form of feedback to consider. Then, there’s the individual themselves, who is displaying clear signs of not being a good fit.

Now that you’ve realised that you’ve made the wrong hire, what next? Most people make the mistake of trying to make it work just to keep their headcount, and the budget for that headcount. They’d rather have the person performing at suboptimal levels because they’re scared of losing that 20% of what’s actually working. They may be holding the view that “a warm body is better than nobody”.

However, this isn’t fair to the individual nor to the team. The 20% that’s working with the wrong hire might end up having a 80% negative influence on others in the team. You’re better off being decisive and having these conversations earlier on before the friction increases. Be respectful about it. Explain to them clearly about areas that need improvement, communicate expectations, set timelines, and manage accordingly.

Make sure you’ve tracked and captured what didn’t work with the last hire, and find ways to build the necessary requirements into your hiring process the next time around.

Office Romances

Firstly, if a relationship is causing personal harm, discomfort or safety concerns for anyone, that’s an entirely different situation. Seek help immediately from HR or someone you can trust.

Most companies have clear policies about interoffice romantic relationships. I have a happy story to share about how a budding office romance can be effectively handled without violating policies.

The policy in that company was very clear: personal relationships weren’t allowed along the chain of command – between manager and subordinate. That means, if one person is able to affect the other’s career progression, pay, or performance outcomes, the relationship had to be declared and alternative reporting lines and/or decision making would be addressed. If not disclosed, this relationship wasn’t allowed due to the risk of unfair biases and negative consequences if the relationship soured.

In my story, the Country Head of HR and a Business Unit Leader started having feelings for each other. Since the Head of HR had responsibility for all employees, there was a potential conflict of interest there. They decided to disclose their relationship to me and the General Manager.

The GM and I decided to work out a reasonable accommodation that would allow the relationship to flourish while also protecting them from conflicts of interest. The Business Unit Leader was taken out of the Head of HR’s responsibilities. So if anything came up related to that Business Unit leader, it would be escalated to me instead of the Head of HR. Now more than 10 years later, they are still together and amongst my closest friends.

So when is the right time to disclose a relationship? That’s really up to you and your partner to decide. However, I’d argue that the earlier you do so, the better. You don’t want to put either of your careers at risk by not doing so.

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Stephanie Nash

Former Chief People Officer | Vice President Human Resources, Asia-Pacific

Circles.Life | Ingram Micro



Personal Branding