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The Policy Police

Do you believe that policies are organizational rules that are meant to be followed at all times? Or do you believe that policies are merely “guidelines”, suggested rules, norms, ways for employees to conduct themselves, etc.? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle? That is, policies are written for the 10-20% of the employee population that need to be “ruled” or “governed” without any black or white and for the rest, we flex our policies.

The danger in answering any of these questions is that we as HR Professionals can become labeled as the Policy Police which is the quickest way to the bottom of the organizational food chain. If we continually put ourselves in a position to police policy, discover rule breakers and mete out punishment than we are only a step away from being the office party planner and head of the cheer committee (you know, making sure everyone is wearing enough ‘flare’). As good HR pros, we should be working with our operations partners in identifying issues, employee relations challenges, etc. and we can certainly write policies to help address those areas. However, it is incumbent on the manager(s) to make sure they apply the policies to their department and ‘enforce’ where necessary….not HR. Now, I am not talking about things like harassment policies which typically require an HR presence after a certain level. I am talking about things like dress code, tardiness, general conduct issues, etc. Managers own these policies not HR and should be addressing them with their staff.

PoliceTo be clear, HR should be treating the organizational policies as a guiding framework and coaching/ advising their operations partners accordingly. In most cases, I absolutely refuse to “tell” a manager what to do when they come to HR and indicate that there is a policy violation. It is usually met with, “well what did you say/do?” “What do you want to say/do?” In fact, I am a big fan of flexing policies almost to the point where many don’t even apply to your best, most dependable performers. If Sally Sue is a rock star that always delivers in the top 5% of the sales group and she needs a vacation day or two advanced, despite “policy” saying that we don’t do that, than by god we should be advancing that vacation day. Same goes for sick days, office hours, etc. If it makes business sense and you are dealing with a solid employee, I say policy schmolicy. When you really think about it, if you have manage based on organizational values, most policies are pretty stupid and unnecessary. However, we can’t seem to live without the policy manual or employee handbook that outlines everything. Perhaps as human beings we are afraid of all those grey areas…who knows?

Bottom line, in my opinion, we (HR folks) shouldn’t be putting ourselves in the position of being policy police. We should use policy as guidelines or a starting point when coaching and advising our clients. However, as managers, they OWN the policies and the people so they need to make the decisions about what they want to do and they need to live with the impacts. Of course, as good HR pros we will guide them to the best possible path/outcome….we just shouldn’t be telling them what they can and cannot do with their people based on black and white interpretations of policies or “rules.”

My advice: Take on the role of organizational custodian and advisor. Guide, direct and provide options. Do not make decisions for the managers. Follow these guidelines and you will instantly add credibility to your HR function and your role. If you get the urge to monitor and police organizational policies, it might be time for a different career path.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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3 Responses

  1. Not only are HR people viewed as policy “police”, but they are often seen as policy “pushers”, creating more and more bureaucracy that inhibits business productivity and performance. Policies should be communication tools, providing managers and employees alike with guidelines for behaviour and outlining rights and responsibilities. They shouldn’t be used as instruments of control and fault-finding.

  2. […] ground, will define how well you execute in doing “good” HR. This is the difference in being the policy police vs. doing “good” […]

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