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“The trite saying that honesty is the best policy has met with the just criticism that honesty is not policy. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy.” Robert E. Lee

HR policies and procedures have had something of a rocky reputational ride of late. Once the mainstay of HR departments everywhere, increasingly the received wisdom is that in the 21st century organisation policies are a hindrance to the agility and creativity we now require. If you look around online, you’ll find examples of funky organisations who have binned their weighty staff handbook – or at least completely rewritten the “rules” around what makes one up.

I may be wrong about this but I imagine you probably don’t work for one of those companies. I don’t – and I never have. What’s more, I’m not sure I’m likely to either.

My current organisation, for example, works with vulnerable young people. The commissioning process for many of our services requires us to demonstrate that a) we have policies and procedures in place to deal with any issues that might arise and b) that we have a track record of following them. So policies and procedures? Yeah, we’ve got ’em. We wouldn’t – and couldn’t – do what we do without them.

So the question for me isn’t “Should we do away with policies and procedures altogether?” but  “Do they contribute towards what we are trying to achieve – or hinder it?”

Go on, be honest with me: when was the last time you had a proper look at your policies and procedures? Were they originally put together – or rather cobbled together – by someone cribbing what they liked from other companies (often NHS or HE organisations who helpfully publish all theirs online)?

I don’t say this from a “holier than thou” perspective – I have been that person doing the cobbling in the past. You can imagine the conversation – you’ve probably been on one side or the other of it yourself:

Boss: “Tim, we need a policy on x”

Me: “Absolutely, I’ll get right on it” (scuttles off to Google “x policies”)

But I’ve come to realise that approach really doesn’t help. Just writing the policy or having it stuck on a shelf somewhere won’t change what happens in real life – you either need to take it seriously and come up with a plan to make the change you want stick, or write the policy from the ground up to reflect what is actually happening.

In my experience, busy managers faced with a particular issue are unlikely to consult your policies and procedures. They are likely to react either as they see fit or in the way they were trained by a previous organisation. If you’re very lucky they might call HR for advice..! So in an ideal world, I suggest you make sure you’re the organisation doing the training – that way your managers have a fighting chance of understanding your organisation’s considered approach to “stuff” when it (inevitably) happens. Otherwise the they’ll still be following someone else’s procedures – and who knows where they came from?

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