Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The "bible" that we love to hate

Every organisation has a “Bible” – the HR Policy book. Its called by a variety of names – HR manual, Policy manual, Employee handbook, Red book, Blue book, Green book, whatever …It’s a bit like the Constitution of a country. You have to abide by it, or else a trial will be held and you will be punished.

It is also the document that creates a lot of angst amongst employees. For, unlike a constitution, it usually only says what you cannot do. And its pretty inflexible and is aimed at the lowest common denominator. The book grows with time to become a monster because new rules get added all the time and nothing is ever deleted. New rules come because loopholes may be discovered (somebody might have exploited them) and they need to be plugged. A bureaucrat’s mindset is nurtured whereby “job satisfaction” , even bliss, is gained by discovering or anticipating loopholes and plugging them.

The section that creates the most heartache is usually the travel policy. Elaborate rules are framed that derive their ancestry from an era when travel was a perquisite, likely to be misused. Travel is now usually a curse to be avoided, but the rules are framed as if every employee will cheat on travel. Elaborate allowances are designed which need a PhD for comprehension. Why not simply create a single daily lumpsum and forget about the rest – NO ; detailed rules on what parking fees can be claimed, and what cannot, will be enshrined in the Bible. And there is the accountant to spot a 1 cent mistake in your expense statement with undisguised glee.

Silly rules abound. If you take leave that straddles a weekend, will the holidays also be counted as leave or will they not ? Bonuses will be paid only if you have not resigned on the date of the bonus payment which is usually 6 months after the year end – never mind that you have slogged your butt off last year and earned every penny of it. Some extreme organizations even stipulate when loo breaks can be taken.

I am not , for one moment, suggesting that you do not need any rules. Of course, you need them. But the governing principles should be – keep it simple, rule only on cardinal issues, make it employee friendly rather than a stick to beat them with, and above all the excellent principle that Netflix has followed – people rise to the level of responsibility you give them.

Tear up your “bible”. Formulate a simple 5 page document. Establish what employees CAN do first – work in a safe environment, get access to training, right to be treated equally with others, etc etc. Then lay out cardinal don’ts – endangering safety, violence, sexual harassment, etc. And then STOP. Give a lot of leeway to employees – you’ll be pleasantly surprised that they behave more responsibly than when the “bible” was seven inches thick. And give leeway to line managers and HR to decide and advice an employee what is right and what isn’t. After all, if you trust them to make million dollar decisions, they surely can take the right 10 dollar decisions.

I now sit back and wait for the HR folks to quarter me !!