This is a story about a friend of mine. She has worked for a major high street retailer for 25 years. Her service record is unblemished. Her sickness levels are almost nil for her entire tenure, save for an operation a few years ago. She is never late. She gets excellent feedback from customers. Once, when it snowed badly and the roads were blocked, she trudged the four miles to work so she didn’t miss a day. She’s the takes pride in what she does, extra mile, discretionary effort, above and beyond sort of employee. She is engaged. You know, that thing we are supposed to be striving for.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend had her performance review. An issue was raised. It was treated very seriously. She had entered an item incorrectly on her till. The till had balanced. The right amount of money went in. But the item in question was coded incorrectly so it looked like someone had purchased, for example, an orange rather than an apple. The value in question? One whole pound.
My friend was formally counselled about her error. A note was placed on her personnel file. She was formally notified that if she made such a serious error again, she would be subject to disciplinary proceedings up to and including dismissal.
Now maybe someone is going to come along and tell me that what looks like a small mistake is really more important than it seems to me. Maybe I am missing something. But this is the sort of HR approach that I loathe. The tick boxing, treat everyone the same, parent child, leave your common sense at home kind of HR, and line management. Because this is the process, the policy, the precedent. And we must follow it. Because HR said so. This is the form they’ve said we must complete and put on the file, and this is the statement that we must say, irrespective of the individual, the situation, the circumstance.
The result in this case? A very upset, disengaged and demotivated employee. An employee who might just leave because she is fearful of making another mistake. Fearful of being disciplined.
I know what part of the role of HR is to write policy, devise processes. I know that we have to provide guidance to line managers on how to deal with their people issues. We often talk of strategic, value add HR. Richard Westney recently wrote a blog post about rising above the mediocre. About being forward thinking and using everything available to us to be so. I agree with him. But rising above the mediocre also means challenging this sort of HR. Challenging the ‘policy says discipline’ mentality. Encouraging our managers to do the right thing, not just the bog standard process thing.
We can be different, if we choose to be, if we are brave enough.
Let HR lead the way.