The HR Juggler

Do You Know What You Are Doing?

Posted on: March 28, 2011

Do you know what you are meant to be doing in your role and how you should be doing it? I don’t. Increasingly frequently, I have been faced with situations that are not only completely new to me, but also to all of the other very senior people I work with. These are most certainly interesting times!

To give you some context: over the last two months I have liquidated a business in the Far East, dealt with a number of whistle-blowing claims in various global territories, drafted employment contracts for a joint venture in China and investigated alleged data theft. And honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t dealt with any of those things individually before, let alone concurrently.

What I have learnt…and am learning!…is this –

  • You don’t have to know everything, or to have done it before, you just need to find someone who does know the information that you need to guide you through the logical steps. This person may not be internal, in fact in most of the above scenarios it has been a specialist employment lawyer, often based in the country involved
  • Dealing with new challenges is interesting and intellectually stimulating. Whilst my role is currently much harder and more unpredictable than I had imagined, I am coping and thriving amid the temporary chaos
  • Doing new things is great for professional confidence
  • Panicking never helped anyone 😉
  • Asking for help is fine…it is also often really sensible.
  • Sabrina Baker wrote a great blog recently about needing the mountain for personal growth, which really resonated with the tough challenges that are taking place in my workplace at the moment
  • Understand and play to your strengths, but watch out for your weaknesses. One of my strengths is the ability to operate fluidly and laterally in a complex, fast-paced environment. The time I really need to watch out for is when it all calms down and I will need to switch to implementing robust processes and procedures.
  • Building relationships internally and externally is absolutely key
  • Make complex things simple, not ever more complicated than they need to be
  • Enjoy feeling temporarily indispensable to the business…but never forget that you aren’t!

Do you know what you’re doing? What challenges are you dealing with at the moment? I’d love to know!

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14 Responses to "Do You Know What You Are Doing?"

This is a great list. I especially love “panicking never helped anyone” – I am a big fan of staying calm! I have faced many of these challenges too in my career and looking back now relish the fact that I was able to go through them and learn from that experience – many in our profession do not.

I’m sure you are doing a great job and appreciate you sharing your challenges with us!

Thanks so much for popping by and commenting Sabrina and also for providing some of the inspiration 🙂

You had me at the title. Tip top list too, new things, I love ’em. And asking for help is very powerful – I love asking folks for help with stuff.

I’m in the middle of an interesting project helping a company to put together an internal communications plan. Do I know what I’m doing? Beyond the exciting discovery work that I really enjoy, the answer is no. I am getting a few hints of what the people where I am working want and figuring out a few things along the way. I’m asking lots of folk lots of questions. And it is fun. They are learning and so am I.

I love not knowing what I’m doing. Spurred on by a post by TheHRD I scribbled a little note about it a little while ago. In case you and your readers are interested here is the link.

Cheers – Doug

You’re right – I had forgotten that post, but its very relevant! I love the energy that you bring to discovering and exploring new things and how much you embrace not always knowing the answers.

Thanks Doug!

Lovely post Alison. Your experiences really resonated with my own and I continue to be hugely appreciative of opportunities to stretch myself into the unknown.

I’ve found the support & belief of my manager/sponsor critical to achievement (I have assumed that this is true for you too). To some extent if you stop believing that you can stretch into the unknown then the magic stops… perhaps it’s actually doubt that interferes and limits performance, maybe akin to Imposter Syndrome?

I’m also struck by your image of a child above. We often forget that our learning has been a product of shared journeys with people we trust, stretching and challenging us along the way.

Thanks for commeting David – yes I think you’re right that an individual’s manager makes a big difference to how comfortable they feel operating in unknowns. I agree with you that trust and self-belief – both our own and other peoples belief in us – is critical to working well in this type of environment.

Excellent write-up Alison and thanks for sharing.

Really good insight on learning and personal growth.

Thanks for sharing Alison. Wouldn’t life be dull if we always knew exactly what we were doing? I am happiest when I am able to mix up a bit of what I know (this could be as simple as knowing I have a network to turn to) with a bit of learning.

During my recent job hunt, however, I have found that recruitment agencies in particular want you to tick all the boxes i.e. have experience in all areas listed in the job profile, before they are happy to forward your details to their client. I think this can result in some feeling pressured to ‘blag’ about capabilities/past experience in order to be considered for the role. This then makes it difficult to admit otherwise in the future. I am a useless blagger (ask my family) so my stance has been to be completely honest if I haven’t done something before and to go on to say that I build relationships, am keen to learn new things and am not afraid to ask for help/questions. Time will tell whether this approach works for me 🙂

Hi Sarah

I agree with you re the dull factor if we always knew what was going to happen and what the outcomes would be.

And its strange and very annoying that we have to conform in a box-ticking manner to key strengths and experiences for recruitment purposes, when actually lots of employers want people who are flexible and can work in a changing environment. Those boxes seem to dissolve pretty quickly when people have been recruited!

I think it was over lunch next to the sex shop last week when I was telling you about a meeting I’d had that morning with some people. You asked what I’d been to see them for and I replied something incisive and dynamic like ‘I dunno’. Sometimes, defining the end before the start is necessary: sales springs to mind. Sometimes, starting without any idea of what you are doing means that you find new and better ways of doing it. I know you’ve enjoyed the excitement of ‘making it up as you go along’. I bet you’ve also delivered a great result because you’ve made the space to be intuitive and creative.

LOL – that sex shop incident might just end up defining you in the ConnectingHR community, Mr Ball!

In all seriousness, it was a real insight to me that you often meet ‘interesting people’ without any formed or fixed ideas about how you would work together in the future, and I guess thats a difference between working for yourself and working for a big organisation. But I’m certain its also something that I can learn from and shouldn’t pigeon-hole to only being relevant to those who work for themselves.

And thank you for your kind words 😉

[…] This is about knowing your limitations. In a recent post by Alison Chisnell, she talked about whether or not you know what you’re doing, and how it’s ok to just sometimes amble on […]

[…] at work, different working arrangements, a wide range of thorny issues, many of which I had never had experience of before and was unsure how to approach. A year which stretched me to my professional limits and during […]

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