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  • Writer's picture2020 HR

Legislating for the many not for the few – don’t police with policy

Have you ever wondered why a policy approach or a convoluted process came into place? I have. And when I enquired about it, it has often come about as a reaction to an issue that had occurred with one or two employees behaving badly or being a little bit disingenuous.

Instead of having the difficult conversation with those employees and holding them to account for their actions, a policy or a process gets amended.

The issue with taking this approach is multi-faceted:

- it can penalise or disadvantage the many

- the manager who doesn’t want to have the difficult conversation is unlikely to enforce the new approach

- managers who don’t see the need for the knee-jerk reaction won’t enforce it or will apply management discretion creating an inconsistent approach

- it often creates more work for everyone who is impacted

Let’s use the controversial issue of personal mobile phone use in the workplace as a way of examining this – I hold no strong views on what the correct approach to personal mobile phone use is; that’s for each organisation to decide on what is right for them but I have witnessed examples of this issue being very divisive when it didn’t need to be.

Imagine a team of 5 people working in a credit control area of the business. One of the team is observed to spending a lot of time texting, messaging or surfing the internet on their own mobile phone. This annoys the manager so they tell the team that the use of personal mobile phones is no longer allowed in the workplace.

Seems reasonable enough, right? Well, yes but look at it from another perspective. Is that individual who prompted such an approach performing at the expected level or is their output lower or more error strewn than the rest of the team?

If the output is where it should be, why would the use of their mobile phone be an issue? They are delivering what you need them to do and what you expect them to deliver. No issues. In fact, you may have a rising star who is far more capable than the work you are currently engaging them in – perhaps you want to consider how you can harness this ability and develop it to benefit your business further and better engage that person. Nice problem to have if you can recognise it. Banning the use of mobile phones in this instance may even disengage that individual and cause a good person with potential to move on to another organisation.

If the output isn’t at the expected level, banning the use of the mobile phone is unlikely to address this issue (even if this is a contributing factor). It doesn’t let that person know that they aren’t performing or where specifically the performance is falling short to allow them an opportunity to improve. Adopting a ban on mobile phones will not automatically result in higher performance.

In addition, you may have disengaged the rest of the team who feel that they are being punished for the behaviour of one team member which could cause team resentment and lower productivity across the board. Without mobile phones, there is the possibility of more personal calls to landline, personal e-mails and non work-related internet surfing. And what about that team member who is a carer and needs to be contactable in case of emergency?

You could be causing as many issues as you think you are resolving. Add to all this, the marketing team directly behind them are free to use their personal mobile phones as much as they want because their manager has a different management style. It hasn’t achieved the desired effect on any front.

Another example I have observed is excessive authorisation levels because one approver isn’t being as thorough as they should be. Instead of holding that approver to account, you put in more transactions which take longer and create a delay in being able to do the things your business needs to get done.

Policing by policy removes managers’ accountability for applying appropriate judgements which you pay them to make. If you create policies and processes because one person has misbehaved, the implication is that you have to protect yourself from the assumption that everyone will behave in that way. People pick up on this and it helps to create a mutual mistrust within your organisation.

I am not saying that when you identify an ineffective policy or process that exposes your business to unnecessary risk, you shouldn’t review and update that policy but what I am saying is before you do that, critically analyse what problem you are trying to address and whether the proposed solution will actually achieve the results you are looking for.

If you need support with any policies, process or critical analysis of an issue, get in touch.

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