People policies. The good, the bad and the awesome.

I write people policies for a living. So it’s no surprise that I have strong views on them.  Policies are often used as a stick to beat HR with – you’ve only got to consider the ‘policy police’ tag as an example.  It certainly isn’t considered the most exciting area of HR.  They are necessary though.  Whether your organisation is big or small, simple or complex, you need to have the policy basics in place.  I see good examples.  And I see terrible examples.

Bad policies:

  • Treat people like children.
  • Create distrust.
  • Include unnecessary detail.
  • Attempt to define every eventuality.
  • Tell managers what to do and how to do it..
  • Get in the way of the day job.
  • Assume bad behaviour is likely.
  • Are long and over formal.
  • Are just about ‘proof’ employees have been told something. (Repeat after me, you do not need everyone to sign your HR Policies).
  • Are accompanied by terrible e-learning.
  • Sit on the website and intranet.
  • Are based on a downloaded template, or copied from somewhere else the HR person used to work.

On the flip side are the good examples. Good people policies……

  • Treat people like adults.
  • Don’t just deal with issues or potential issues.
  • Meet all legal requirements and consider good current practice.
  • Have a tone of voice that matches the organisation.
  • Don’t constrain decision making.
  • Explain what is required of everyone.
  • Reflect the rest of the organisation – they aren’t just ‘off the shelf’ or best practice. They are contextual.
  • Are aligned to organisational aims, missions, values.
  • Build in management discretion.
  • Are not overlong.
  • Consider the first impression for new starters.
  • Are well communicated.
  • Are user friendly and easy to understand.
  • Are supported with other useful information and a range of formats.
  • Are aligned to the rest of the people activity.

But you can go even better than that. You can have progressive people policies.

    • That treat people like they are going to do the right thing.
    • Challenge people to do the right thing.
    • Create permission for change.
    • Create trust.
    • Further the aims / strategies of the organisation.
    • Are focused on and ready for the future.
    • Are merely the foundations of your HR practice on which you build learning and skill.
    • Take into account how their drafting will make people feel.
    • Have a straightforward tone of voice and talk to people like they are adults.
    • Encourage and enable desired behaviour rather than have a list of ‘do-nots’
    • Further the rest of the people activity.
    • Are constantly changing to meet the needs of the organisation.



Don’t make your policies boring, formal, unhelpful.  Make them awesome instead.


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