HR – Too many policies and processes; not enough practicality

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John PopeManagement consultant John Pope explains why excessive policies and procedures are causing more harm than good.

A great friend of mine works part-time for a Government organisation at one of the organisation's information and customer contact points. She has done so for over 10 years and is very experienced and competent at her job. When she came home from work recently, she burst into tears as a result of the way the organisation had treated her. There had been successive changes and complications, a continuing overload for some weeks and had been left alone, unsupported, to deal with the customers at the information point, to deal with a backlog of other people's work, resolve customers' problems, process forms and handle phone calls. There are, of course, performance targets for all these things.

A clear case of work-related stress. Her managers had been no help. Despite the problems of overload, system failure and inadequacies, staff shortage, none of her managers had done anything to resolve the problems. Too often problems had been brushed aside, and too often the most senior manager of her department had been tied up in attending meetings to discuss, amongst other things, aspects of HR policy.

The Team Leader works in an office 16 miles away, the Line Manager is based in an office 25 miles away, the Service Manager is 15 miles away. The team on site has been told that they are self-directed and in the event of any problems 'should sort it out amongst themselves', along with allocation of holiday cover and annual leave!

"HR staff is conspicuous by their absence – not doubt because they are filling in forms and ticking the right boxes. Even the most junior member of the substantial HR team could have spotted the signs of disorganisation chaos and consequent employee stress had they visited"

That organisation, being a part of Government, has of course got policies on everything. It has policies on discrimination, on age, gender, sexual orientation, diversity, maternity/paternity, medical appointments, flexible working, childcare… and more besides. It has Annual Staff Review and Development interviews and an Annual Staff Opinion Survey, with accompanying results, and occasional 'Talking Sessions' at which the Chief Executive talks to such members of staff as can be spared from their other duties. I almost forgot the inch- thick Health & Safety document. Oh, and it also has a policy on Stress!

Now I am not saying that this situation is all the fault of HR, but a lot of it is. HR staff is conspicuous by their absence – not doubt because they are filling in forms and ticking the right boxes. Even the most junior member of the substantial HR team could have spotted the signs of disorganisation chaos and consequent employee stress had they visited this particular site, or any of the others for that matter, since the three sister sites all suffer from the same problem.

And the problem? Yes, Management. Yes, managers are not prepared to observe the important things that managers should be concerned about, of which the way work is done, the way staff are working, their behaviour, their evident attitude and, by a few well chosen questions how they feel about working for the organisation.

" Yes, managers are not prepared to observe the important things that managers should be concerned about, of which the way work is done, the way staff are working, their behaviour, their evident attitude and, by a few well chosen questions how they feel about working for the organisation."

I suppose some of those policies are important. Government inspired regulations have made the possibility of legal action when there are failures; have driven organisations to relying upon policies to keep them out of trouble. Policies and processes may be necessary, but commonsense, visible caring managers are vital to the success of any organisation.

I cannot see any easy resolution of the problem that reliance on policies and processes instead of managerial human concern for their staff – at all levels – raises. Her managers also suffer from some work-related stress, though rather less since they are not 'in the firing line'. Some are overburdened by the paperwork and the need to consult ‘Policy’ before they think. Others are burdened with making sure all the right boxes are ticked. The better ones try to find time to manage their staff but are often over-burdened themselves. What is needed is better managers; better managed managers who say 'No' when a task just cannot be done, managers who have the will and the time to manage their people.

Short of burning much of the well-meaning impractical and sometimes nonsensical law which has been developed; dissolving the many 'Equal xx Commissions'; perhaps even burning down the CIPD which have connived it these things, I do not know what to suggest. What I do know is that tying managers up with too many rules, processes and policies does not produce good managers; and countries which do not tie themselves up in knots with excessive regulation are going to prosper and ours is not.

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15th May 2007 15:48

An additional thought

Why aren't HR departments buying in to modern technology and using work flow software then they don't need written procedures of what actions to follow, the systems do it for you.

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15th May 2007 13:12

The problem with many organisations is not that they have too many policies and procedures but they don't have policies and procedures that meet the needs of the organisations, the managers or employees.

Many HR departments have Policies and Procedures which read like war and peace and often have more pages. Who bothers to read War and Peace when you can see the film? It is the same with Policies and Procedures if they are heavy no one will read them.

Why can’t a policy be just one or two pages only?
Why must you have a procedure for every policy?
Why not only produce a procedure when you actually need one?

HR as a whole in very good at getting it's self sucked into the world of PC. Oh we better guard against that just in case. What is the point?

I have previously been told by the Commission for**** that one of my policies was not a policy because it was only 2 pages. I asked why “Oh it doesn’t tell me the process”. I then had to explain that called a procedure.

I confess I used to write policies and procedures which would complete for words with “War and Peace” until a colleague working on the Dome asked me why. I have never done it since.

It not just policies and procedures that are at fault but employee handbooks, H&S handbooks, Terms and Conditions etc. Very few HR departments write these in plain English, concise and to the point.


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15th May 2007 13:49

I have to agree - a policy should be memorable, understandable and relevant for the organisation - I would challenge any organisation for the need to have a policy longer than 2-3 paragraphs, and in rare occasion’s one page. If it is longer than this people will not read it - if people do not read it, it will not be implemented.

As for procedures - these need to be step by step and no longer than 2 pages.

People that confuse policy and procedure should be asked why they are doing what they are doing, and to prove their value (ROI or ROCE) to the organisation.

Policies and procedures are there to save money not cost it.

Mike
http://www.rapidbi.com.bir

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