Management 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!
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.
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.