Catching the cactus

Instincts are a funny thing. Yesterday, as I went to pull the kitchen window closed, I nudged the rotund, spiny cactus that sits on the window ledge with my elbow and it toppled forwards in slow motion. Had this been a scene in an (admittedly rather dull) movie, the scene could have frozen with the cactus in mid-air whilst I thought about what to do about it. However, this was real life, the scene did not freeze and what I did instinctively was to reach out and try to catch the overbalancing cactus. This was a Bad Idea, people. My left hand currently looks like I’ve tried to pet a porcupine.

In my professional life, I come across people using their instincts quite a lot, with varying degrees of success. Nowhere in the HR world of influence is this clearer than in recruitment, where we can still observe the “gut feel” hiring manager. You know the one I mean: you can give them all the training in the world but their gut will know the right candidate when they see them. No amount of required question lists or answer scoresheets will persuade them that their gut might not know best. I’m sure many of us have come across the “”gut feel” hiring manager for whom their gut is telling them to hire people exactly like them, flying in the face of the prevailing wisdom that diverse teams are far more successful. A damaging instinct.

I’ve also come across managers whose every instinct about people management is wrong. From the controlling micro-manager to the hands-off-but-basically-absent-and-entirely-unsupportive supervisor. The people who believe in jumping straight into the disciplinary procedure at the merest hint of problematic behaviours to those who think flexible working requests are for people who aren’t interested in work or career progression…

Perhaps I’m labouring the point. We all have potentially damaging instincts,. We often follow them without thinking about it. Sometimes those instincts will mean that we’ll make a mistake: we’ll reach out to catch the cactus. I’m not sure I could even stop myself doing it again in the same situation – but I’ll certainly try. How many unchallenged instincts have you followed today? Will you also end up – metaphorically or literally, in my case – as a human pin cushion?

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