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Jump in and all aboard?

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

One of the most common self-help slogans out there is, fake it till you make it. If it wasn’t obvious the underlying message is: even if you don’t feel completely ready to take on a responsibility - do it - seize the moment because i) no one is fully ready before they do something new and ii) you may never get another chance if you wait for a perfect, no risk opportunity. Sounds reasonable now, eh? The expression is one of many designed to counter imposter syndrome which can create debilitating inertia in almost anyone. Many similar expressions exist, like Richard Branson’s oft quoted, 'if somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!' Who could argue with such positive and encouraging words from someone so well respected?

As reassuring as these words are, the message of support is directed toward the supplier of a product or service not the stakeholder or receiver. Imagine you are a customer in a restaurant, and you come to learn it’s the chef’s very first day cooking? Imagine you are on an airplane about to take off and the pilot takes to the intercom to announce it’s his or her first time flying a real plane. Imagine you are on a stretcher being wheeled into an ER hospital room and the surgeon looks down at you and says, 'don’t worry, I’ve never done this before, but I’ve always wanted to be an ER doctor'.

The latter situations almost never happen (well, maybe the chef story tastes like it does). Does ‘fake it till you make it’ work in ALL types of work…of course not. Thus the more refined question is, what is the criteria where FITYMI does not apply or should not be allowed? To be fair, there are many situations in life where you the customer might be perfectly fine with being the subject of an experiment, but the common denominator is: wouldn’t you want to know – in advance, in every case where someone is testing out their new job on you?

Learning on the job (or OJT) implies that some screening mechanism was used in advance to attempt to determine if a person is likely to be a good fit or succeed in a role. The common denominator in 'fake it till you ...' is risk, namely, what is the risk to the customer, client or end user to let someone effectively experiment on the job to gain some foundational experience from which to THEN learn and build upon? If it’s immaterial, negligible or manageable then really there is little harm and OJT can carry on business as usual. If, however, there is significant or material risk, then this form of unilateral job hopping should not be encouraged.

So, where does HR fit in this risk tolerance spectrum? You tell me: What is the risk of making a bad hiring decision? What is the risk of promoting a toxic employee? What is the risk of mishandling an employee exiting an organization? What is the risk of HR being isolated and disconnected because the workforce finds that person incompetent? What is the risk of ignoring org culture during a restructuring or M&A? What is the risk that someone new to HR learns HR from someone else who IS still - faking it till they make it?

In sum, what is the risk of having the wrong type of person working in HR even if that person desperately believes they should have the right to fall into the opportunity? Heck, many retail establishment and hotels at least give new hires a badge that says ‘trainee’ and new drivers of cars are often required to put a sign or sticker on the vehicle saying, ‘new driver’. In any case, I’m sure Richard Branson didn’t just start flying his plane without going through some formal training from a licensed expert. Yet for HR, it’s jump in and all aboard?

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