The principle or the process

We love a process in HR. Even more, a policy or two.

There is nothing wrong with process and policy….. sometimes.

We need processes and structures. We need guidance for employees.  We need to be clear about what the standards are and how we do stuff.

But they can hinder as much as they help too.

And when they get in the way most of all is when the process gets more focus than the principle. When we lose sight of the principle itself. That most important of things.

At your place……

Is your performance review process about having a great conversation or filling in a form?

Is your ATS about providing a great candidate experience or ticking boxes that you can tick some other time? Is the first part of that process engaging with the candidate or is it about confirming the right to work in the UK and oh by the way you need to have a CRB check?

Is employee engagement about increasing the sought after percentage or ensuring that employees have the best experience at work that they can possibly have?

When handling a grievance, is it all about ensuring the policy is followed to the letter or understanding why the problem arose in the first place?

When it comes to the important induction process, is this also focused on experience or is it about getting people to sign to say they have recieved some stuff so that maybe one day you can dig their signature out and say I told you so?

The principle is the most important thing. It is what we should focus on, always.  It should be what drives our decision making – and our drafting.

Unfortunately all too often it is the other way around.

It is sometimes easier to ask the small questions than face up to the big ones. Tweaking processes, rewriting policies. Focusing on symptoms and not causes.

Maybe that tick box on the recruitment system will stop you getting one claim in the Employment Tribunal this decade. Maybe that 25 page document with version control and a director signature outlining what you can and can’t say on social media will stop an issue or two.  Maybe the most important thing you can do on day one of induction is the health and safety overview just in case there is a personal injury claim sometime in the future.

But what have you lost along the way? How many candidates decided that your recruitment process was a window to your culture and got the heck out of there? How many of your employees feel like they are being treated like children and silently resent it?  How many managers and employees just go through the motions because it is written down that they should but can barely see the point?

If you are not careful, policies and procedures grow. They stop being about the principle of the thing. You start off succinctly and before you know it you are attempting to address every possible scenario, cover off every possible risk and given yourself and your people a headache along the way.

When it comes to process, we need a little not a lot. Process does not empower, it constrains. Policy does not engage, it tells.  Process does not create, it formalises.

Let it guide you not own you.

When it comes to all of the people stuff, it’s about not losing sight of the principles. What kind of employer do we want to be, how do we want our people to feel, what do we want it to be like to work at our place every day?

Make the principles drive the process and not the other way around.

The question that remains is therefore simply this; which are you going to focus on?

3 thoughts on “The principle or the process

  1. “If you are not careful, policies and procedures grow.” Too right. There is a tendency, a very strong one, to believe that the management of the process and the production of the documentation is the output in itself. That it is the result. There is a problem with technology and tools here I think -most organisations have a method of production and if it is not followed then no re work has been done. It does lock people into working in approved ways with approved means of communicating. Not very human at all.

  2. There is that tendency of the C-Suite that they love process and procedure as it proves that they are making a change and improving things. Unless it’s sales or profit related, they tend to lose interest quickly though 😉 The Directors that focus on people and principles are few and far between, but so much more successful as a result of that shift in focus!

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