Taking the Right and Wrong out of your Policies

Some things are clear cut. Black and white. Decisions are easy. But there is no black and white when it comes to decisions about people, which can create a few problems when it comes to writing and implementing policies for business. A common misconception that is evident from many of the HR policies I come across is that they focus on compliance, adhering rigidly to the various codes and rules we have around employment. And while policies do need to be statutorily compliant, going with a 100% by-the-book approach will cause more problems than it will solve. But we don’t find this out until we need to rely on the policy information to make a decision. So how do you create policies that facilitate strong operating practices and fulfil your employment obligations?

I work best with examples, so here’s a recent client scenario:

A board meeting between directors A and B is in progress. They’re meeting to discuss the holiday policy for their business. The business needs availability for their customers, with a good visibility of staff throughout the year. Bottlenecks in staff holidays are causing a disruption here.  The board are clear that employees work hard all year and deserve their breaks at times that work for them. They are also mindful that the business needs to thrive financially, psychologically and sustainably. Something now needs to change to accommodate both needs.

Director A says he would prefer it if all employees could put in their time off requests at the beginning of the year at the same time, so that the holiday calendar could be organised in advance. Then it’s easier to facilitate different needs and create opportunities with plenty of notice. Director B points out that this simply wouldn’t work for her. She prefers to be more flexible with her holiday, not plan things too far in advance. She tends to see what holiday everyone else has booked and work around that instead. She also mentions that she knows a few other employees who prefer to work this way. Her accommodating nature means many people benefit.

So who’s right?

If we had left that discussion there, it could have meant 2 board members would think that the other was wrong. Director A may be thinking that director B doesn’t plan well, and director B, well possibly, that director A is too rigid in his approach. If director C is then asked to cast a tiebreaking vote based on which he thinks is ‘right’, they could find themselves on their way to dissonance and unhappiness between two directors and a loss of adaptability, currently given freely, from some employees on either side of the argument.

What Can We Learn?

Here’s’ the thing – nobody here is wrong. Each individual’s frame of reference is different. Instead of choosing the option based on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for the business, we helped them look into the ‘why’ behind their decision. We looked at what ‘could’ be done rather than what ‘should’ be done and what was ‘helpful’ or ‘unhelpful’ versus ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The result? We identified some clear options and came up with a solution that was structured enough to suit the business needs, but flexible enough for everyone on the team. Our solutions took into account the culture and working ethics of the business and we did this by parking our judgments and focusing on the objectives.

Many HR policies are drafted based on the need for rules. Ours will provide that. But we find that it’s not the policy that supports the way a business runs, it’s the way decisions about the topic are made. So we identify how the company tends to make decisions and then provide a supporting framework for implementing the policy. This way decisions are clear, consistent and most of all, human. So, when an unpopular decision needs to be made (which is the only time policies come into question!) it is more likely to be respected and accommodated.

We really enjoy working with businesses to facilitate the dialogue that leads to quality people practices. The themes are the same, the solutions differ. So if you could use some guidance about your people policies and decisions, we’d love to see how we can help.  Get in touch with us today.


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