By applying the method of calibration to HR, policies can be implemented more effectively and teams can find harmony. Find out how to get started...
HR policies, like employment law, can sometimes be ambiguous – this is not through poor writing or lack of clarity. It's due to allowing scope for sensible and professional interpretation that protects employees and businesses, and applies practical and appropriate solutions to multiple scenarios that can’t possibly be hypothesised individually.
So how can HR, in an advisory capacity, ensure consistency while also maintaining credibility and pragmatism based on seemingly ambiguous policies or case law, or policies that are hard to apply to an obscure circumstance? I believe the answer is ‘calibration’.
Singing from the same hymn sheet
In terms of computers or engineering, calibration looks at establishing that appropriate elements are all working together, that all the components are working in synchronicity.
Applying this ethos to HR – how companies are advising their staff, managers and senior leaders, as well as implementing their policies – can ensure the same level of quality, consistency and accuracy.
As a consequence, HR will meet less challenge when decisions are made as well as enabling the business to function more effectively with sound and dependable advice.
It also means that HR teams can work in unison and, for lack of a less trite word, in harmony.
So how can we start to calibrate HR advice?
Connect, collaborate and calibrate (what’s a good methodology without alliteration, eh?).
The process works through identifying areas of inconsistency, having open discussions and debates on how conclusions and interpretations are met, and then remedying those discrepancies with collective reasoning and understanding.
Step one – connect
HR departments need to identify and understand the issues they’re having in terms of giving advice by running a rudimentary root cause analysis, and the impact this and the policies have on staff and the business.
Or in other words they need to connect the dots and assess the big picture to uncover how and why inconsistencies are occurring.
It can’t just be that HR policies are too vague. They need to be able to set out clear standards and procedures while maintaining some sort of flexibility for managers to apply professional judgement appropriate to individual circumstances.
The whole team can learn and develop together and from each other.
Instead, the issue could lie in the interpretation of the policies, not just by HR but by managers too. Is there a lack of educating managers on how to implement policies? Is there a lack of explanation as to why HR has advised what they have?
Conversely, are the policies in fact too vague? Are they missing essential clarity that, not only fails to provide guidance, but also fails to allow sensible and intelligent interpretation? Areas of repeat ambiguity, misinterpretation and misapplication are big signs that the policy itself will need revising and updated.
Step two - collaborate
Now the dots have begun to be connected, the HR team should work together on these issues by setting aside time to meet (either face-to-face or conference call - though I prefer the former) and use these issues as a structured agenda.
One of the best ways to do this is setting a scene by way of a case study, whether real or fictitious. With the ins and outs of particular scenarios, the team can collaborate to meet conclusions that are open for (friendly) challenge and debate.
The case studies can be picked apart, have various ‘endings’, and even the odd plot twist or two... anything to get the team thinking as a team about how a scenario could have happened, why it happened, and, most importantly, how they would advise the manager or business to react.
This can also be done when new case law or legislation comes into effect, not just to interpret, but to find out how it can impact the business and its staff. By using this same method, the team is making a collaborative effort in reaching a unanimous decision that is best for the organisation.
Step three - Calibrate
Once the team members have met conclusions and discussed the different ways that they would offer advice, and the impact this would have, they will begin to understand how the team itself ticks – how their thought patterns play out, both on an individual and collective scale.
The beauty of having an open discussion about these issues is that the reasoning behind the interpretation is articulated. They haven’t each just given their answers. They’ve shown their work, they’ve explained how they got there, and, by doing so, they are voicing their way of thinking.
This three-step process will strengthen the HR team and the advice they give.
This very process means the team can begin to calibrate; that is, make sure their thinking is in sync. This isn’t to quash individual personality or thought processes, it’s to encourage individual personality and thought processes in a way that makes sense to everyone.
But the process of articulating this, and having discrepancies challenged and defended, means that potentially damaging interpretations can be corrected at the specific step of the thought pattern where it all went a bit off piste.
Likewise, the process of clarifying thought patterns and having misunderstandings explained also means that the whole team can learn and develop together and from each other.
This three-step process will strengthen the HR team and the advice they give, resulting in managers and the business having more confidence with HR and their own abilities and implementation of policies.
It is essential to make sure the process is repeated regularly, even as a standing item on your monthly team meetings, for example.
Only you can decide the appropriate regularity specific to your company, but it needs to be enough to keep it in the front of the team’s collective mind so that they can in time begin to think in sync.
About Charles Goff-Deakins Assoc CIPD
Charles Goff-Deakins is an associate member of CIPD and works as a senior HR officer, having a particular interest in HR policy, learning and development, and employee engagement. As well as writing for HR Zone, Charles also writes about career management and professional development on his blog The Avid Doer.