Not necessarily by the book

by Adelle Chua20 Sep 2017
Company rules exist for a reason.  They are there to ensure that employees play by the same rules and are guided by the values that hold the organisation together.

Overly prescriptive HR policies, however, can take a big toll on employees.

Sue Bingham, a consultant who has been helping company leaders create high-performance workplaces over the past 30 years, says there are ways employers can balance establishing ground rules and creating an environment that is conducive to productivity.

Here are her suggestions, published in an article for the Harvard Business Review:

Make positive assumptions about your employees
By all means, do not play “Gotcha!”

“Creating an environment of mutual trust is much easier than trying to run an authoritarian regime free of rule breakers,” Bingham says.  

In high-performance environments, guidelines empower leaders to use their personal judgment to make decisions – not act as a comprehensive book of infractions. In the first place, if you believe employees need strict rules, then perhaps hiring and retaining top talent is a challenge.

Most employees are intelligent adults. “Get out of the way, and let them be great,” Bingham says. Streamline the code of conduct into something that sounds like “Everyone is expected to act in the best interest of the organization and his/her fellow employees.”

Follow common sense, not policy
Strict policies are often excuses to not think, Bingham says.  

“Involve your team in creating expectations, not rules, or you’ll only get compliance from those unwilling to go beyond basic requirements. The cost of compliance is ongoing. Commitment is an upfront one-time cost, and then it’s self-sustaining.”

Together, the group determines gaps and develops standards or expectations of each other that drive committed behaviors as members of a high-performing team.

Prioritize leadership over technical skill
Many firms promote employees for their loyalty and technical skills, not leadership ability. Once they are promoted, there is limited investment in their leadership training.

“Policies are a company’s message to its employees regarding how it values people. If your company must have policies, senior leaders should allow and expect managers to use their own discretion and judgment in administering these policies. Again, expectations and guidelines work better for thinking adults than black-and-white rules and steps.”

So, Bingham says: Take your faith out of policies, and place it in the people you hired to grow your company into a thriving business.


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