The Not-So Magical Place Where HR Policies are Born

Most everyone, I imagine, is somewhat familiar with the Cabbage Patch Dolls, and perhaps, to a lesser degree, the origin story that accompanied them (as explained on Wikipedia):

Xavier Roberts was a ten-year-old boy who discovered the Cabbage Patch Kids by following a BunnyBee behind a waterfall into a magical Cabbage Patch, where he found the Cabbage Patch babies being born. To help them find good homes he built BabyLand General in Cleveland, Georgia where the Cabbage Patch Kids could live and play until they were adopted.

BunnyBees are bee-like creatures with rabbit ears they use as wings. They pollinate cabbages with their magic crystals to make Cabbage Patch babies.

Colonel Casey is a large stork who oversees Babyland General Hospital. He’s the narrator of the Cabbage Patch Kids’ story.

Otis Lee is the leader of the gang of Cabbage Patch Kids that befriended Xavier.

(This discovery legend would be reproduced on every Cabbage Patch Kids product from 1983 onward.)

Aw; cute! The whole mythology with the stork, the cabbage leaves and the pollinating bees (no birds?) is full of saccharine sweetness and innocent enough to appeal to both the targeted tots and their great grandmas who buy the dolls,

Not everything in this world though has such a pure and virtuous evolution story. Take, for instance, the origins of company policies; HR or otherwise.

Certainly most companies have multitudinous policies; there are Company Policies written and disseminated by the fine folks in Accounting (A/P and A/R), Purchasing, Safety, IT, Security and even Marketing (“don’t talk to the media unless you are an authorized representative!”).

There is, however, a special place of honor (or a special place in hell) reserved for human resources policies. These are the directives everyone is referring to when they say “it’s against company policy.”  Oh sure, your Director of Accounting may have issued a 12 page Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Policy but who, other than the rest of the accounting nerds, really knows what’s in it?

But the HR Dress Code Policy? Policy #G1-325.17? Section C, paragraph (1), subsection (a)? You can be damn sure everyone can quote it section, line and verse.

Why, I sometimes get to wondering, are human resources professionals so in love with writing, revising and adding more and more pages to the already lengthy manuals that grace our corporate offices?  (“This shall be my magnum opus,” Pam whispered breathlessly as she put the finishing touches on the 2018 revision of Acme Corporation’s Handbook for Associates).

Yes of course there are legitimate and necessary reasons to issue policies:

  • Provide guidance
  • Outline expectations
  • Ensure consistent practices
  • Maintain legal compliance (truth is, there are some items you just must issue in written or electronic form and gather acknowledgment signatures verifying dissemination) and/or CYA

There are also really dreadful and unnecessary reasons to issue (or create new) HR policies:

  • One employee did something bad, stupid or inexcusable and so an entire policy is crafted
  • A weird once-in-a-millenium event occurs (the work week ends on Leap Day which also coincides with Mardi Gras Day and time/payroll processing will be adjusted) so a “when this occurs” bullet point/sub paragraph is added to an existing policy
  • There is an overwhelming desire to create a laundry list of every possible unforeseen employee transgression that “might” lead to termination
  • An HR practitioner/leader feels the need to prove how necessary her job is by writing policy after policy after policy so she enters job-preservation mode and cranks them out by the bucketful
  • An HR practitioner/leader secretly enjoys the moniker “HR police” even though he regularly complains to everybody how bad he feels when everyone considers him the “HR Police”

Yes; you need policies. Good HR policies provide a foundation for you to outline behavior and expectations as well as communicate rights and responsibilities for your staff. Well written policies educate and clarify.

Not every policy of yours has originated in a tranquil cabbage patch filled with bees and butterflies.  Those bad policies, whether they be poorly written or just plain superfluous, need to go.

When Those Pesky Women Want a Job

Wendy_Welder_Richmond_Shipyards (1)Last week a friend sent me the link to an article entitled “How to Interview a Female Applicant.”

Had it not been on wikihow (founded in 2005) and had the site not contained pictures showing people in fairly-modern dress, I would swear to you this content was deemed to be necessary and pertinent somewhere around 1972.

Here, for your reading pleasure, are a few of the tips:

  • Create a list of unisex questions (maybe this means NOT asking the men to “tell me about a time when you completed a time-sensitive project on deadline” when you ask the wimmen-folk to “tell me about a time when you baked a cake from scratch”)
  • Evaluate a female applicant based on her overall level of professional appearance (you know, unlike the dudes who you can pick apart on a checklist: shoes…pants…belt…facial hair…) 
  • Avoid asking questions about future plans or career goals when interviewing a female applicant. This could be seen as an attempt to discern whether the applicant has plans pertaining to marriage or children that could impede her future work performance (damn women always wanting to get married and have babies!)
  • Keep introductory questions related to business and the industry when interviewing a female job applicant. Questions about family or weekend plans are inappropriate and could set an informal tone that will prevent you from accurately evaluating the applicant (of course…with the MEN feel free to chat about football, beer drinking and how they keep the Mrs. in line). 

Do we still treat female applicants differently? I’m not talking females for tech roles (which may give us one answer) or females for executive leadership roles (which may give us another answer).

What about general-basic-entry-normal jobs? Do the kid gloves get put on? Do interviewers (male or female) get more anxious or nervous with female applicants? Afraid they will cross some invisible line because the person sitting across from them has ovaries?

I found an April 2015 article from Glamour Magazine (which, as a side note, made me think of George Costanza…am I right?) on the subject of “Are Male Interviewers Secretly Biased Against Women?”; wikihow or not we do continue to talk about this stuff.

Maybe we just sound smarter (or less guilty?) when we call it unconscious bias.

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image: US Library of Congress Prints and Photography Division

HR Service Delivery: Signed and Sealed

signed-11_8Looking for a hot conversational topic when you’re stuck chatting with a bunch of HR professionals? Whether you’re sitting with two of them at the train station or stuck in some in-house training session with your company’s entire HR team here’s a surefire discussion starter: ask them who they serve in their organization. In other words whose needs are they there to meet and/or satisfy? The business? Leaders and managers? Employees?

I guarantee this exchange will be both captivating and heated. I’ve participated in informal roundtables with this as the topic du jour and enjoyed cocktail parties (whilst sipping a lovely Kir Royale) where the discussion on this subject was so tempestuous we managed to barely escape just short of actual fisticuffs.

The answer, proffered by your average HR practitioner, to this seemingly basic question will vary based on any number of factors; the type and size of organization she has worked in as well as the sort of organization in which she was trained in the ways of HR. The answer will be formulated depending upon the HR pro’s previous mentors or bosses, and also the type of specific roles he has held in the human resources field. What was measured? What mattered? (note: contrary to popular opinion what matters does not get measured nor does what gets measured….matter.)

 

The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is “HR serves everyone.”

We serve the needs of the business. In accordance with laws, regulations, policies and the dictates and desires of our CEO or business owner, we serve, protect and defend.

We serve the needs of managers and leaders. We don’t cover up their shenanigans of course, but neither do we bring them down and lay blame. Rather, we assist them in everything related to the management of their people/human capital/resources. We coach, guide and support them so they can focus on running the business.

We serve the needs of employees. We hold their hands, we answer their questions, and we help them solve problems. We may, depending upon the need, talk to their mothers, spouses, priests or parole officers.

And when we do all of these things right we are also serving the needs of those who are external to our organization – our candidates, our communities, and our customers.

Here’s the deal…so often in human resources we’ve tended to think of these things as mutually exclusive. “I can’t be an advocate for employees if my role is to protect the needs of the company” is something I’ve heard more than one HR practitioner say. Or “I need to maintain impartiality so I can’t be too friendly with employees.”

Both of which, of course, are utter crap.

You can work in HR and be a competent and caring business professional without being a solemn and dour robot intent on spreading doom and gloom with every policy update. You can serve others without being servile or subservient. It’s not the role of the HR lady to keep a candy dish on her desk, bake muffins for birthdays and holidays, and take minutes at the weekly leadership meeting but you can still be pleasant and kind.

The strategies and goals of the business inform what HR does…but the how is what each of us as HR professionals determine once we realize who we serve.

The how is the magic sauce.

This question – “who does HR serve?” – is perhaps the most elemental aspect of human resources and goes well beyond a practitioner grasping the bodies of knowledge or being fully capable in the HR competencies. The answer to this question lays the foundation for one’s entire career in and around HR.

So I wonder…how many HR professionals are truly delivering … to all?