The View from HR

View from HR: Why there’s no such thing as ‘workplace luck’

CorrespondentMay 31, 2014 

Employees and managers appear at HR’s door blaming workplace problems on bad luck, but rarely do they credit successes on good luck!

Luck, both good and bad, is highly overrated. If “workplace luck” is an unpredictable event with no apparent cause, it is very rare indeed.

“I did not get this project finished over the weekend because my friends dropped in, I had to show them around and we stayed out very late each night.” Substitute “my Internet went out,” or “the employee is unskilled,” or “I had a bad headache all weekend.” What part of this was caused by bad luck?

Who decided to do this project at the last minute? Who decided to devote the entire weekend to unplanned guests? Why did this become another person’s problem on Monday morning?

Luck not a strategy

This is the point managers and employees often miss: Unpredictable events happen so often they are actually predictable. In any given time frame allowed for completion of a project, events will happen that prevent progress. The 95 percent solution to missing deadlines because of these events is never waiting until the end to start!

Yes, this sounds like counseling a procrastinating college student who is unhappy both in the library and the local bar because they have put off the hard work. Unfortunately, it is also common with working-age adults.

The more significant and impactful the project (or the effect of its delay), the more in advance work and progress must occur. Something will happen – count on it. People who deliver on big items rarely wait until the last minute.

What about good luck? Good things do happen in random ways and times, but even that is predictable. The employee who counts on luck as a strategy (“something will help me out here, it always does”) is fooling themselves. Chances are others have accommodated for poor work and missed targets, and forgiveness was misinterpreted as luck.

Plan ahead

The old saying “you make your own luck” is true. Of course there are serious events that can throw even the most forward planning among us into impossible situations. These are rare and can be managed with enough lead time and a solid history of accountability.

Successful employees and managers plan ahead for both unforeseen hurdles and unexpected gifts. Time management provides space for recovery from hurdles. Proactive preparation maximizes readiness to take full advantage of those unexpected gifts.

So instead of “my bad luck, I was just assigned to the worst manager in the company!” why not learn all the failings of this manager and adjust your own behaviors? What if you became the first employee to thrive under this manager and are recognized for your agility?

Instead of “I guess I got lucky” when the big account is landed, why not work to understand all the steps you and others took to make that happen ... so you can repeat that “luck?”

Drop by HR soon to say: “I completed a tough assignment because I planned for unpredictable events.” Be ready to catch them if they faint!

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit www.capital.org.

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