The Problem with Policies, Processes and Procedures

In HR we like our procedures. In fact, the only thing we like more than our procedures are our policies. And let’s not forget our processes – they are definitely a close third. In fact, you might want to call these the HR Trinity… Ok, maybe not, but you get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, it is HR’s responsibility to keep the company out of trouble. One way that is done is by not only establishing good policies, processes and procedures but also ensuring that they are consistently followed. 

So what happens when your policies stifle your ability to do business? Or undermine your authority as a manager?

Nevah! You say. That will never happen here!

Oh, but it does…

First up, keep in mind that once a policy is established you are kinda, sorta bound to it. If you have a policy that says that you cannot be more than 5 minutes late or you are placed on warning, you need to follow that policy. Even if you have a star performer whose one fault is he just can’t roll in within that five minute window. Never mind that he does the work of three other team members, if that is your policy you are going to be hard pressed not to follow it, even if it means you lose that employee. “Ah, Jim we have to have some leeway…” and I would agree with you, except you have this pesky policy in place. Not to say you have to do what I am suggesting, but what if word gets out to some of the others who you have terminated under this policy? How are you going to defend it? Especially if your star performer happens to be a perfectly healthy white guy who is under 40… and one (or more) of your current or former employees who have been subject to this same policy, well let’s just say they don’t fit into one of those unprotected classes… (Hint: let’s just say it could be problematic)

What is an alternative? Start by looking at the cause for the policy in the first place. I obviously made that up, but I have seen some policies that aren’t far off from the example – mostly in the retail world. In these cases you have folks who work various shifts and they need to arrive on time so that others can get off without a.) accruing overtime and/or b.) leaving the department or area unattended. These are legitimate business reasons, but are there other tools in your tool box? Can you cross train others from different departments to fill in should someone be running a few minutes late, for instance?

Another issue I have seen is that policies and procedures are often used as a crutch for a weak manager. It never ceases to amaze me that managers will come together and put a policy or procedure in place to address something that one person is doing within their department. Bob just can’t seem to get to work on time, and it is becoming a problem. Instead of sitting down with Bob and showing him how to set the alarm on his phone, the manager brings everyone together and says that they are implementing a new policy surrounding attendance (or whatever). Not only does Bob know it is directed at him, so does the rest of the team – which could not only lead to resentment of Bob (“Bob can’t get here on time, now if I get caught in traffic too many times, I am going to get in trouble”) but also the realization that you are being a chicken and not dealing with it head on.

So at the end of the day am I suggesting we get rid of policies?

Nope. I am in HR, after all… I have to show my face to my colleagues, after all. What I am saying is, give some serious thought before you push for a policy, procedure, or whatever (or in effect make one for your department, team or work group).

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