• Mark Shaw

The Argument for Less Policies and Procedures in HR

I am going to argue the that the more detailed and specific your HR Policies and Procedures become, the less effective they are.

Consider a Corporate Dress Code policy as an example.  It can be a simple as “Dress professionally” or “Business attire must be worn.”

Or it could go on for pages about describing “professional” or “Business attire” in detail.

When I ask companies why they use more detailed policies and procedures, they reply that the policy needs to be clear to everyone in case there is a situation that ends up in court. 

Here’s my problem with that argument.  Who ends up in court?  Everyone or just a small percentage of your staff? In my experience, it’s just the small percentage (I call them the 2%-ers).

I think you’d agree that when most people make a mistake or honest oversight, you discuss what happened with them, they say sorry and it never happens again.

The 2%-ers are different.  When you discuss what happened with them, it does not get resolved and generally leads to a difficult conversation.

Worse, the only situations that ends up in court are those 2%-ers you try to performance manage, discipline for inappropriate behaviour or terminate.  And then in court the judge (or equivalent) will focus on three questions:

  1. What were the policies and procedures?

  2. What policies and procedures were breached and how?

  3. How reasonably was that breach managed?

Of these questions, the judge focuses more on determining the degree of reasonable management used than the amount of detail in the policy or procedure.

In summary, while policies and procedures are critical to guide behaviour and provide boundaries, having more complex policies and procedures does nothing to stop the 2%-ers or how you need to manage them.  

In my experience you can achieve much better outcomes by keeping the policies and procedures simple (such as dress professionally) then ensure you take reasonable management action in a reasonable way when a breach occurs.

Let’s be smarter when it come HR Policy and Procedures.

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