The Blog

More Articles: Latest Popular Archives

It used to be that HR, as the custodians of the people policies, wrote them, reviewed them and held on tight to them. Highly knowledgable and clinging to that power of knowing what to do in any people-related situation.

Over the years, things have changed. Policies are now available to, at least, line managers; but mostly to all employees. We increasingly expect line managers to handle the majority of people-related matters on their own. And we expect them to only involve our expertise when it comes to the complex, unusual or where we can ‘add value’ (i.e. the stuff we find more interesting).

We train managers in what to do and how to do it (if they’re lucky) but they practice so infrequently that when it comes to using it again, they tend to opt for either –
1. Re-read the policy, apply it, miss out a key step (of the 136 written in there) and then involve HR to clear up the mess
2. Just don’t read it and ask HR for help because they have a million other things to deal with

Both of which result in HR grumbles –
“they were just trained on this a year ago, why can’t they remember”, “why don’t they just read what’s on the policy / procedure”, “I’m so busy I don’t have time to deal with these minor issues”, “I’m meant to be a strategic partner – why am I still doing this stuff”, “oh surprise, surprise, they did it wrong and now it’s all gone belly-up – I suppose I’ll have to sort it out”.

And we will help. But with what mindset?

Do we enjoy being martyrs to the cause? Did we set our HR teams up in this way just so we could play this role of ‘hard done to’? Are we really so ignorant to our customers’ worlds?

I’m a big fan of choices and taking responsibility for what we do and how we do it. So I see we have some choices….
1. Go back to a place of HR being deeply involved in all people matters, and forget notions of strategic partnerships.
2. Help managers better by keeping policies simple, jargon-free and clear about what’s ‘essential’ and what’s a ‘recommended’ step. And help them have easy-to-access, in-the-moment learning content that they can quickly refresh on. We’re in 2013 – this is definitely do-able.
3. Do the Ulrich thing and have a ‘proper’ shared service and strategic HR structure
4. Something else entirely
5. A pick and mix of these

But before we leap in with a solution, let’s stop and think. Because it feels like the tail is wagging the dog. And because what we don’t need is to keep doing the same stuff and getting the same results…..

So, the big question, what is the purpose of your policies…..
Do they support the culture you want to create? Do they help you towards your organisational goals? Do you know what you expect of your leaders to support that? Are the top table fundamentally aligned on all these things?

If any of those is a ‘no’, and if you really want to make a difference, that is where you need to start. Clarity on these questions will filter through everything you do (not just with policies) and will act as an anchor for all decisions. You can begin to have a world where the dog wags the tail!

I want to be clear though, there’s (rightly) a lot of interest and excitement about the cultures being created in places like Netflix ( But we aren’t all Netflix and we certainly can’t just copy what they’ve done because that’s about them, not us. This is about getting really clear on ‘the deal’ YOU want to offer, the position YOU want to take in the market, the reputation YOU want to have.

From that, you can then figure out if your policies support that, or not.

And you can choose what you need from your HR team, or not.

And they can choose if they want to be a part of that, or not.

Receive more HR related news and content with our monthly Enewsletter (Ebrief)