When it comes to designing HR policies and processes for your organization, it’s generally good to start with one assumption: The typical path is almost always the worst path.
Before we go any further, let me be clear—if you’re doing some of these things in your workplace, most probably isn’t your fault – at least not directly. You’re likely following the way you’ve seen them done, which I can forgive. (Well, it can be forgiven until you know better – and I hope you will by the time you reach the end of this article.)
Let’s Take a Closer Look at “Typical” HR Policies:
- The “typical” way of helping people improve performance is to focus on their weaknesses (which actually makes their performance worse).
- They “typical” way of giving paid time off is woefully inadequate (and even “unlimited” vacation policies mostly miss the point).
- The “typical” pace of work is burning people out at a frighteningly unsustainable level.
- The “typical” way of using job descriptions is practically worthless. It often implicitly encourages people to not fully express their strengths in their teams.
- The “typical” approach to running meetings is sucking the life out of virtually everyone.
- The “typical” way of handling office hours is notoriously inflexible. Among other terrible consequences, it excludes qualified workers who could add a tremendous amount of value.
- The “typical” way of recruiting and hiring doesn’t account for what intrinsically energizes people anywhere in the process.
How Did We End Up Here?
Why is the default “HR policy” path so… bad?
Most of these “typical” problems can be sourced back to management theories that were invented about a hundred years ago, stemming from the philosophical work of one guy —Frederick Winslow Taylor — who based his organizational design on two fundamental assumptions:
- People are dumb
- People are lazy
Follow the logical course of that path for over a century and see where it gets you.
Oh wait, it gets us exactly where we are now (see list above).
By following this path, we’ve created a society where 87.7 percent of us are dispassionate about the very activity we spend the majority of our lives doing.
But, says former employee relations manager and founder/principal of HPWP Consulting Sue Bingham in her in her recent HBR article, The High Price of Overly Prescriptive HR Policies, “Most employees who work for you are intelligent adults… who have the organization’s best interests at heart.”
But when we build organizations based on the assumptions that people are fundamentally brainless and unmotivated, we end up with organizations that more closely resemble Office Day Care Centers versus a workplace full of thinking individuals.
Let’s Stop This Trend
We constantly hear about dismal and static employee engagement, but when almost all our policies are designed to de-humanize, are those pathetic, stagnant numbers really any surprise?
I know the current way might seem like the only way to work — it’s admittedly the only path most of us have ever experienced — but I promise you this is not the only way, nor is it the best.
Instead, be a “Corporate Rebel”: inspire change instead of forcing change by involving employees in the change process. Quoting Bingham again,
Be a “Corporate Rebel”: inspire change instead of forcing change by involving employees in the change process.
“Policies are a company’s message to its employees regarding how it values people.”
“If you believe employees require need strict rules and enforcement to be productive, hiring and retaining high-performance people will be a challenge for you. You hired these people for their tenacity and talents. Get out of the way, and let them be great.”
So when it comes time for your organization to start thinking about…
- Performance management
- Vacation policies
- Organizing teams
- The expected pace of work
- How to run meetings
- Office location and hours
- How to do recruitment/selection/hiring
…and just about every other “policy” written down or living in your organization’s culture, take a good, hard look at the way you’ve seen HR Policies done – and strive to do better.