View from HR: Embrace moments of truth in the workplace

In every workplace, moments of truth show what we are made of. Long-term and productive commitments to each other are built or destroyed in these moments. As the saying goes, we remember moments, not days (or years).

Mistakes. How mistakes are handled says so much about people. Values, empathy and intent: The causes and cures of mistakes tell a story. Whether manager or employee, everyone is watching to see if you own it, care about it and learned from your mistake.

Conflict. Conflict is inevitable, especially the unproductive kind. When people take their eyes off the bigger picture and focus narrowly on their own needs and views, conflict fills the gap. People who put aside their preferences, styles, assumptions, inflexibility and selfishness are seen as part of the solution. Those who stay mired in the muck of word parsing, petty offenses and turf protection earn their reputations.

Family needs. Employers and managers sometimes have the enviable opportunity to help a deserving employee with an important family or personal need. The issues may be complex (and precedent might be a concern), but the chance to make things much better in tough times (or not) is a big moment of truth and worth the risk.

Self-interest. Extraordinary success should be applauded. Income disparity created by innovation, risk-taking and hard work is a time-tested American value. However, me-first behaviors to unfairly boost income or status are noticed by everyone. When the manager tells an employee “let’s talk about how WE can help ME make more money,” the moment of truth reveals warped priorities and a lack of awareness for the employee’s needs.

Successes. How you handle success is an important moment of truth. Is credit genuinely shared with the right people? Was the success for the right reasons with the right methods? Did it create success for others and the organization? People want others to succeed when it is deserved and enjoyed with some humility. Ball-spikers and lone-rangers will not enjoy the same support.

Life values. Think of the leader or mentor who has had the most impact in your life. Chances are they showed both positive work skills and life values. It is very hard to separate the two in a strong role model. Can someone be both a great role model and a poor example of life values? Maybe, but one so neatly reinforces the other that the best among us exemplify both. The right moments of truth flow from these folks like clear, cool water from a spring. The best leaders come from this pool.

Firm but fair. Tough decisions made for the right reasons and conveyed in a respectful, understandable way are more impactful than most bonuses and gifts. Why? We all like rewards (they are important!). But we come to trust others who take the personal risks to do the right things.

Moments of truth are all around us and ready for you to grasp. Enjoy the easy ones, embrace the hard ones, and create the productive bonds that make workplaces successful.

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