Don't Shoot the Messenger!

Don't Shoot the Messenger!

Many years ago, I was waiting to see a CHRO in his office. Then, I saw him get a young team member, many pay grades below him, go into his room. Spotting me a little later, he asked me to come in as well. The conversation I witnessed then left a telling impact on me. I can’t even imagine what it did to the young man.


This young HR professional had heard through the grapevine that morning about some management team members, including the CHRO, resigning from the company. Thinking that the “open culture” allowed him, he considered it was his HR responsibility to let the CHRO know of the noise in the system. So, he was called up and was asked to come over that afternoon.


And as I saw the conversation unfold, it became nothing less than an inquisition. The big HR honcho wanted the names of those who had raised the story. The little guy said that this would be a breach of trust and confidence. Within minutes, the CHRO exploded, remarking that “nothing that HR hears can be confidential”. By this time, the young HR professional was teary-eyed, so I had to intervene, asking him to go down and wait in my room for me.


I asked the CHRO, who stayed adamant, why would he ask for specific names. There was only a rumour, and the youngster was merely playing it back.


When I came back to my room, it was obvious how rattled this guy’s faith and confidence was. And, while I tried to ease his worries over the next 90 minutes, I knew we had already lost the guy. And the Big Man couldn’t care less. I was reminded yet again of a big leadership lesson that afternoon, more often breached than practised: Absorb the message, don’t shoot the messenger. Otherwise, next time, you will not even have a message!


Read another bite-sized story by Prabir: A Manager Can Make It or Break It



Prabir Jha is the Founder and CEO of Prabir Jha People Advisory. He has been the CHRO of two Fortune 500s and two NYSE-listed Indian majors.


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