I am spending a whole lot of time at the moment writing people policy. It’s one of the main areas of focus for my interim work.
On people policies, I so often hear the same complaint:
The policy doesn’t work.
Of course sometimes this means something else. I don’t like this policy. Enforcing this policy isn’t my job. I don’t want to have this conversation.
Here is what I know about people policy:
You can write whatever you like .
You can agree approaches with your trade unions or employee forums.
You can establish a tone of voice and a format. You can make the language inclusive.
You can place responsibilities wherever you wish.
You can produce accompanying guidance notes and toolkits and flowcharts.
You can introduce all of the above with great internal communication and mandatory training.
You can consider the impact on equality and diversity.
You can follow all of the best practice.
But so what?
Documents don’t change stuff. People do.
Policies can fall down in the drafting. Documents written in the abstract, following what is the so-called best approach rather than what is right for the context. Only in my experience, that’s rarely the issue. When companies tell me that they have a problem with their policies, often isn’t the policy itself that is the problem, it is the application – and the lack of consequences.
The problem is not in the drafting but the doing.
If your absence policy says return to work interviews are compulsory but no one does them, is the policy wrong or the manager who doesn’t bother?
If probation reviews are seen as vital, but you don’t actually monitor completion and the only time they take place is when someone is underperforming, where does the fault lie?
Are there any consequences for ignoring the policy? Does anyone care?
I will always favour people doing people stuff because it is the right thing not the told to do it by HR thing. I don’t want HR to be about compliance.
Policies are targeted at employees. What they can do and what they can’t. Sanctions. Responsibilities. Requirements.
The question arises…..
Who manages the managers?
You can have all of the policies that are fit to print, but what matters is that documents come alive. That they make the transition from paper to real life action.
HR can listen, draft, consult, support, guide, teach.
But ultimately it’s the people manager that make this stuff happen, in the every day. And if they are not, the response shouldn’t be to change the policy or produce more checklists, flowcharts and scripts.
Its about skills – and accountability.
Documents don’t change stuff. People do