The Spice Girls have always had it right: “If you want my future, forget my past.”
But not HR. HR remembers everything. Once you’ve made a mistake, it’s hard to expect a clean slate in the future. Mark still holds the title of “top salesperson” despite a dry spell lasting three years. Jessica has the “drama queen” label from an incident 18 months back, even if there’s been no repeat. Once labeled, it sticks.
So, what’s the game plan?
If you screw up, if you sense that label, or if a specific issue has warranted repeated discussions, it’s time to consider a career move to a new organization. Pay attention to the number of discussions—once is a potential oversight, but twice or more likely lands you a Lifetime Label. These labels echo stick. Messed up with a subordinate? You’re forever “that” boss, unless you marry them, and even that comes with its own label. But get divorced? Back to square one.
This idea also extends to positive instances which is a good thing and a bad thing. Remember the manager who transformed a struggling business into a standout? Despite multiple failures in similar roles, their name popped up each time a struggling business nearby needed help. However, their initial success owed much to the team’s efforts. Placed in similar situations with different teams, they failed. Yet, the past clung, painting them as the ultimate “fixer.” HR just can’t forget your past!
The real issue? HR won’t acknowledge this tendency. So, if you truly want to “zig-a-zig-ha” in your career, sometimes, moving on is the only way forward.