You Should Tear Up Your Employee Handbook and Start Over #SHRM14

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I’m coming to you from sunny (and hot, even for a Texan) Orlando, FL where I’m #SHRM14. First off, the national SHRM conferences is probably my favorite HR conference — so I look forward to it every year. I love the speakers, the exhibit hall, and the networking opportunities. I recently attended a session from Steve Browne called, “LeadHRship!! Five Keys to Integrate HR Throughout Your Organization.” Steve’s really got me sparking on a lot of things in HR — including thinking about employee handbooks. First a few questions. Ask yourself:

Do You Know What is in Your Handbook? What is its Purpose?

When is the last time that you looked at your employee handbook? Do you know what all is in your handbook? The truth is most HR people don’t. Yet we expect our employees to and even punish or fire them for what is in the handbook.

Just Pass Go?

Do your employees know what they are signing or it is more of something that people sign to say that they received and agree to. Do they read it — Do you care if they read it and understand it, or are you just trying to “check the box” that they have received it because now they have the information to do what they will with?

Policies for Sake of Having Policies

Is your handbook just a giant book of useless policies? Are there policies that make no sense or no longer relevant? One of my favorite example, someone shared and example of having a policy for making coffee. We all gasped, “seriously?!?!” but then ask yourself, do you have something similar in your handbook?

Okay — so as someone who has done more than my fair share of policy writing (which I kinda like doing, btw), I was surprised that I wasn’t’ more uncomfortable when Steve exclaimed, “Rip up your handbooks and throw them away!” Its an exaggeration of course, but its also a call to  action for us to look at and re-evaluate that giant book that many of us call “Employee Handbook.”

Stay with me, because I know I know were some of you are going. I am not a lawyer (and I don’t play one on TV) and  I know that we “need” to have handbooks in play for legal and “compliance” (imagine me saying that with air quote gestures) –let’s set that aside for a moment and just talk about your people. I feel that the “handbook”, “code of conduct”, “employee rules”, etc should be relatively simple in that people have clear and easy tenants to use to tell them if they actions are acceptable (and I think that may be different than what you’d need for the legal piece — once again, I’m not a lawyer.). Call ‘em your corporate conscience, your core values, company commandments — but you shouldn’t need a policy for EVERY single thing if you have a compass that is to be used as a guide.  It makes it easy to take an action or behavior and tell if its acceptable or not. Plus, in addition to these tenets giving you guidance on HOW to act – -they are also great to use on the hiring end to make sure that you are bringing people into the company who value the same things and will maintain those same norms. Make the guidelines clear, simple, and easy to understand, so that it also helps OTHERS maintain the norms because employees can also help to “police” themselves. Employees can help throw a yellow flag when someone steps outside of the guidelines in many instances. Say goodbye to HR being the policy police (because seriously — even the most hard-core of us HR people don’t really enjoy being the policy police — that’s not really providing a ton of value back to the business, imho).

I’m not just echoing Steve’s call to throw away your handbooks because I’m jazzed and I think its the trendy thing to do — I think that its part of the evolution of HR and take our function to the next level. I’m asking you to do TWO things.

  • First I’m challenging you to *really* look at and review your handbooks and think about what needs to be in there . The problem with the handbooks that many of us have and use is that they were written for legal reasons and not employees — write a guide or handbook FOR employees and have what you need to have on hand for the lawyers.
  • The second thing I want to challenge you with is to think about how changing your handbook changes YOU as an HR professional. HR WILL change when you’re no longer the enforcer of the rule book and you start to deal head on with people and behaviors instead of pointing to a policy or a rule.  Its not confrontation, its just level-setting and follow up and its easier to do when everyone knows the expectations and how to act — and people are being held accountable.  Most people don’t come to work to be a jerk and rock the boat — so give people the guidelines that they need to keep ‘em safe, to protect others, and to do awesome things at work and let the small stuff go.

Are there policies in your handbook that make wonder “why that policy is there.” Or a policy that you have in place because ‘that one person’ did something and now there is a policy for the entire company to prevent it from happening again? Tell us about it!

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