Tim Sackett Op-ed: "If You Rake Sh*t, It’s Gonna Smell"

May 21, 2015

I worked with a great Operations partner for a number of years who was fond of saying:

"If you rake sh*t, it's gonna smell."

This was almost always said about something HR was doing. Usually, it was an investigation, and usually it was an investigation that wasn’t going to go anywhere. He was basically trying to say, "why?"

"Why would you look into that when you know it happened, you know the result, and at this point there is nothing that can come from it. Why?"

We in HR tend to do a lot of this; we rake sh*t. I know why, but if I admit why, HR folks tend to get a little upset over the answer because it hits a little too close to home (hint: it rhymes with “job justification”).

Let me give you an example of how we/HR might rake some sh*t:

As part of a sexual harassment investigation, which is completely legitimate, you find out some information about a director who previously had a relationship with a subordinate.

Following me so far?

Seems like stuff we HR types do every day. Follow the white rabbit and see how far this hole goes down, right? The part that's missing is this supposed relationship took place 3-4 years ago and has been over for 3-4 years. The director is a great performer and has no black marks on his or her record. So, what do you do?

I can tell you from my experience, too often, the HR pros want to start raking this one around. We bring in the director. We bring the other party. Both of them have moved on 3-4 years ago, but somehow in HR we want to right the wrongs, no matter what.

Is what happened 3-4 years ago wrong? Yes, without a doubt.

Is investigating this wrong, now, what's best for your organization? No, it's just raking sh*t. What should we do when we find out about stuff like this? You make the powers that be aware (from my experience, they will already be aware; you were the only one that wasn't) and you let them know. You're not planning to do anything about this, unless they would like you to follow up further. They'll thank you, and it will never be talked about again.

In HR, we work every day to try to make the right things happen, and stop the bad things from happening. That's what we do. Sometimes we miss one, and it comes up and lets us know all about it. Our pride gets the best of us, and we want to make someone pay for a rule that was broken long ago.

Am I saying if you find out about something after-the-fact, that you shouldn't do something about it? Absolutely not - you should. What I'm saying is: In HR, interpretation becomes a major skill you better get comfortable with, especially if you want operations to view you as a "valuable" business partner. There will be times to rake and times to let it lie. How you handle this goes a long way to how great of an HR Pro you will be.


Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP, SPHR is the President of HRU Technical Resources, an IT and Engineering staffing firm headquartered in Michigan. He is also a popular writer in the HR and Talent space, and highly sought after public speaker. Schedule a hug at TimSackett.com.

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* Image by Judy van der Velden