An Open Letter to HR on Policies, Regulating, and Training

AKA An open letter to HR professionals who think it’s a good idea to regulate the snot out of everything

Dear fellow HR professionals,

Hey! So, I’m not sure if you know much about me, but I’m a different kind of HR guy. I like being open and honest and treating people like… Well, people. Our employees aren’t children (and if they are, that’s a whole other issue!), so why do we treat them that way?

This ain’t my first rodeo

I talked about this before in a video. I attended a supervisor training where we spent two whole days listening to people whose favorite phrases were don’t do this and don’t do that. I can understand setting those minimum standards, but I don’t understand why there’s no attempt to reach higher. Why aren’t we giving our people lessons on coaching and leadership in addition to the rest of that stuff?

Think about it, if you train people on the bare minimum qualifications and never go farther, where do you think most of them will rank? I’m willing to bet it’s somewhere right above the minimum!

Signs like this exist just to make someone feel important!

No wonder we’re so busy

So, what can we do? Are we going to seriously think through each and every possibility and specifically say, “You can’t do that” and somehow keep a straight face? I have news for you. People are messy. They (we!) screw up. It happens. And there is absolutely no way in the world for you or me to guess what our employees are going to do next. It might bring tears of joy. It might bring cries of disappointment. But trying to sit around and think of things to tell people they can’t do is useless and pointless.

Like I said, they aren’t children

Remember back in elementary school when someone misbehaved and the whole class was punished as a result? That may have been effective back then, but it doesn’t work as well on adults. If someone screws up, don’t make a new rule against it if you already have something on the books. Enforce the rules you have.

If Bob is making a lot of personal phone calls and missing out on his work, talk with him about it instead of doing the classic indirect email/announcement saying, “Just wanted to remind everyone of the phone policy. It still exists. If you may have been abusing this tool, it kinda needs to stop. Thanks!”

The great social debate

Social media is a great example. Somebody somewhere (some of my friends included!) says, “Let’s block everything and maybe our slackers will get to work!”

Hint: they’re still slackers.

One potential alternative: we could teach and train our people about the positives and negatives of the tools and then let them loose. If someone gets out of line, take care of that individual. Blocking those kinds of tools isn’t an effective long-term solution.

Three things you can do to change your thinking

And as this letter comes to a close, I ask that you think about your own workplace. If you’re committing these kinds of acts, stop. The world has enough of this kind of people. Let’s set the bar higher.

Respectfully yours,

Ben Eubanks

P.S. A man I greatly admire encourages HR people to have a “Pitch a Policy Day.” I’ve always thought it was a little overboard, but after some of this stuff, I can understand where he’s coming from! Here’s a link to a podcast where he talks about back-to-basics HR.

10 thoughts on “An Open Letter to HR on Policies, Regulating, and Training

    1. Ben Post author

      That’s absolutely correct, Wally. sigh I’m going to spread this around today and maybe it will hit enough people to make a difference. :-)

  1. Wally Bock

    What’s really awful about that, Ben, is that it sets people up to fail. They don’t have the training and support they need to be a good boss. That means they’re more likely to wind up with serious problems, less likely to document and deal with them effectively, and more likely to be shredded at any kind of admin hearing.

    All this when good supervision is the best way to prevent problems and the best defense against grievances and lawsuits.
    .-= Wally Bock´s last blog ..6/13/10: Leadership Reading to Start Your Week =-.

    1. Ben Post author

      @Wally Great comments, Wally. Suggestions for making that kind of training a priority are always welcome. :-)
      @Justin That comment is amazing. I think I might write a post based purely on that!
      @Krista Hmmm… Well, we force people to read it, or maybe we can just keep plugging away at those people who are the decision makers.

  2. justin locke

    well one of my “principles of applied stupidity” is “the minimum is the maximum.” I found when playing in the boston symphony there were no minimum standards. in fact there weren’t ANY standards. if there are no minimums, the only one left is how good can you do it today. only 2nd rate conductors believed in success via elimination of error. pushing to the max is erratic, it’s something we understand in sports, but the fear of failure and mistakes strangles top performers. rock on brother. –jl

  3. Krista Francis

    Thanks for the post. But as I was reading it, I was thinking that the people who already agree with you are probably mostly the ones reading the post. The ones who probably most need to read it……..aren’t.

    What do we do about that?
    .-= Krista Francis´s last blog ..Getting Ready for Vacation =-.

  4. justin locke

    well krista if i may be so bold, and bear in mind this is not knowledge so much as encouragement:

    i believe that anyone at any level can make changes happen by engagement. if you have a rule-maker making lives miserable, before condemning out of hand, take a look and see what this is about. maybe this person is afraid of risk or consequences. maybe they have been told they will be fired if xyz happens, so draconian measures were required. maybe they lack training. (david m scott talks a LOT about on the job SM access, just one example to use– it’s a common issue).

    understanding someone else’s vulnerability is work but it’s the easiest way to start truly effective negotiating. no matter how powerful someone is, they have vulnerability that most underlings don’t understand.

    i used to call various bosses “stupid” until I realized *I* was the “stupid” one for not seeing their point of view. wish i had been taught that sooner. by connecting one can perhaps lessen the fear that drives this behavior, — also by making them more aware of YOU as people . . . and so one can be proactive here and there. would be nice if it didn’t have to be done, but , well . . . sadly, it does, just about everywhere. – jl

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  7. Sheila Marr

    Ben, this is a good reminder as I begin a new handbook for a small company that has no formal employee handbook. Just like speechs and messages the “KISS” policy applies.


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