>Whatever you do, don’t follow best practise

>Here at LBi Towers (my workplace, all opinions my own, blah, etc) we have a theory that best practise is all well and good if you want to identify a ‘standard’ way of doing something. But, if you want to do something amazing, you need to do more than just best practise.

Essentially best practise is about doing a set of actions that result in a desired result. And in most cases that desired result is pretty staid stuff. We want to increase online engagement, we want to improve retention rates, we want to increase brand perception, we want to be an employer of choice. Those are all fair, and in some cases lofty, ambitions. And for the most part, those companies will be advised to do a set of actions to help them achieve those things. And the cycle is reinforced.
So why am I, an L&Der, concerned about best practise? Well, it’s a piece of terminology that has infected both HR and L&D circles so much that I think we’ve both lost our zest and passion for the job we do. Many in the industry follow what has been outlined by ACAS or the CIPD or because they are the alleged experts that guide what we do and how we should do it. For L&D in particular, there is no direct industry body, but that’s something for me to rant about later.
What this has meant for us professionals is we are trying to get companies, in the main, disciplined in the act of following policies and procedures so they do not fall foul of employment tribunals for transgressions they should have avoided. Part of what I’m talking about is reminiscent of a post by a HR professional, delightfully called theHRD, where he blogged about the de-skilling of HR. And also a post I made a while ago on the over-reliance of policies.

Instead what’s happened is a field we now call Organisational Development came out of the bushes and said, Hey! You keep doing your policies, L&D, you keep doing your training, and we’ll get on and do the exciting company wide development stuff like employee engagement and inter-departmental blending and culture development. I’m not begrudging OD professionals what they do – in truth my passion lies more in OD than it does L&D. But what is apparent is HR and in most cases L&D are given shorter remits of work as other ‘specialists’ come in to do the stuff which is not best practise.
These specialists push those boundaries of convention and are lauded for their free thinking and challenging ways. And the truth is they should be applauded for those things. But, and here’s the crux of it, HR and L&D have an equally important responsibility to shout for the same recognition.
It’s not enough that HR manages recruitment, retention, employee relations and policies. It’s not enough that L&D creates a training programme, delivers training, and helps staff feel valued. They need to move beyond those restrictions and show companies that they are better than that. And that’s not by following the best practise of other companies, or your very good friend who is HR director at Google. It’s by identifying which business objectives you can get more involved with that show either HR or L&D can play a more strategic role in the business or organisation. That’s a basic tenet of what should be happening anyway, and I’ll wager 80% of HR professionals aren’t doing this.
In my opinion, the best way to ensure you have someone who is looking beyond best practise is by having a full time in-house resource dedicated to their role. Outsourcing is fine but does not allow the true value of the profession to be realised. I’m fortunate that I have full responsibility for L&D, have no one to steer what I do, am self-reliant enough to get on and do things and have established the credibility of L&D across the agency. It’s taken time, but I’ve done that. If you’re not able to do that, you either need to review the responsibilities of your role, rise to the occasion and make your mark known, or seek to develop yourself so that you can step up and not rely on best practise.

>Are you behaving intelligently?

>A while back I started this topic about Intelligent Behaviours. I started to talk about two aspects of the title – what it means to be Intelligent and why I chose Behaviours. I’d like to continue that discussion piece to evolve my thoughts and the theory.

In particular I want to focus on the workplace as that has resonance for a lot of people. In my last job I had to do a lot of training on the topic of Diversity. Part of that training was centred on the consequence of acting inappropriately or insensitively towards someone and the process of disciplinary. There was no positive message in there at all. It was all about ‘Don’t do this or else’. There’s two things within this I’d like to tackle.
The first is the delivery of the message. As L&Ders we should be able to encourage a group to reflect on their actions and reach a decision about how they want to act in future. The problem with the delivery style of the training was that it was telling people what they weren’t allowed to do. If the discussion came up about what they could do, it was chance that directed it and nothing else.
However, think about the development of the discussion and training if you get a group to think about behaving intelligently towards their colleagues. In the first instance it’s about recognising what behaviours are appropriate as well as inappropriate. And not just a typical flipchart list of ‘touching’, ‘shouting’, ‘arguing’, etc. That only superficially addresses those behaviours. There needs to be a set of development activities that centre around the skills that enable understanding of those behaviours e.g. active listening, learning about cultural differences, how to ask questions, all things which are key in enabling behaviours to be understood better.
The intelligent piece then focuses on how to act on that learning. And that’s the difficult bit for a lot of people. If you know that you shouldn’t be putting undue pressure on your team, but you aren’t cognisant of your own behaviour how can you act intelligently? You need to take a long look at yourself and either seek feedback or find ways to raise your self-awareness so that you can learn what acting intelligently means for you. If it’s about being professional, in what respect do you need to do this. If it’s about explaining your thinking more, what is it that you think is or is not happening now?
The second piece I’d like to tackle is the focus the company places on this topic. A company has as much responsibility to behave intelligently as does its staff. From the company though it should be less about process and protocol and policies and more about behaving in ways that make people feel valued, and if they’re misbehaving then dealing with that appropriately.
For example, Bob comes into work drunk after every lunch break for a week. Typical action would be to discipline Bob for breaking company policy and being under the influence of alcohol. If he doesn’t improve in 2 weeks he’ll be let go. That’s fine but what a stick approach.
How about a company giving Bob time off from work, fully paid, on the condition that he immediately seeks professional help, paid for by the business, so he can overcome his problem. A timeline is given for 2 weeks to turn it around, and if there’s no satisfactory result, then he will be given a further 2 weeks off work, unpaid, but still has to get help. If there’s still no joy, then you enter into formal proceedings explaining that you’ve offered the support, you’re still committed to helping Bob, and together you will find a way to improve, unfortunately he has to go through a disciplinary. You also have an open forum with the team about how they are dealing with workload and any other stress with the absence of Bob so they are not ostracised.
A company won’t do that though because of the time and investment involved. Instead they’d rather have an unproductive worker, who isn’t dealing with his issue, getting worse, and with the fear of losing his job hanging on his head. His team and manager aren’t dealing with the situation well either and they’re feeling the stress. He leaves, and the post is vacant for 3 months resulting in increased unproductivity. Recruitment fees stack up, you finally find someone, and 3 months after they start they’re finally at an acceptable working level. 8 months down the line of Bob leaving, you’re finally productive again, after a lot of cost to the business. It could have been dealt with in 4 weeks.
I’ve created extreme situations, and this theory is far from infallible. However, it does offer an alternative perspective to how we currently approach problems and issues on a day to day basis. Intelligent Behaviours is about what it suggests. Thinking about how we behave so that we can make intelligent decisions for the benefit of everyone involved.

>Do you have a policy for that?

>The World Cup is round the corner. From 11 June – 11 July, the world will literally be focused on one thing and one thing only. The football. Even I, who has zero interest in the sport, will be following it. And why not! Your country’s reputation is on the world stage and it makes life incredibly interesting. Your workforce will be bantering the entire period, more so than normal. National flags will be flying high. Energy levels will be amazingly high and moods will be swinging all over the show. There will be as much frustration as there will excitement.

And here’s what worries me. HR will announce – we have a policy for situations like this. I hate policies. I hate them with all my heart. They are a disease brought about by a litigious culture to cover your back. If something isn’t going right, a policy will be there to say – I Told You So. How truly uninspiring. Policies serve to only stifle and restrict the workforce. And here’s the nub of it all. We need policies like we need to be told the consequences of killing another human being.
The CIPD today have released this article thinking they’re helping the workforce: http://www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/hrpract/absence/_world_cup_absence_management. It doesn’t help at all. If anything it makes staff reticent to bother with following the World Cup at work at all. I’m not advocating staff should only be allowed to watch their matches of choice, but don’t throw down policies to take away any thought of doing it. Let me unpick some of their suggestions. ‘Swap shift’ – nonsense because most shift workers do those hours because it suits them and their lifestyle. If I work from 6-11 it’s because I have other commitments which suit that arrangement. ‘Unpaid leave’ – really? You want your staff to not turn up for work, and dock their pay because you’re not willing to accommodate them within the workplace? ‘Games and alcohol’ – Oh Lord. If staff haven’t realised they shouldn’t be doing these in excess then you’ve clearly got other issues you need to deal with. ‘Flexible hours’ – start work at 6am so you can watch your 1 1/2 hour match and leave at your normal time of 6pm. And still be productive while you’re at it. The only decent suggestion they have is ‘special screenings’. This makes far too much sense and I love they add this disclosure piece: “however, it should be remembered that not everyone will be interested in watching the football so people should not be made to feel excluded if they don’t want to get involved”.
It’s my one bugbear about HR. At a recent workshop by the Training Journal, one of the speakers – Jack Wills (Chair of the British Institute for Learning and Development), explained how when he has bought companies, one of the first departments he gets rid of is the HR department. Controversial? Yes. But it makes sense. If line managers were doing their job right, HR wouldn’t need to exist. It’s a thought I’ve often had about HR privately (although, obviously, publicly now).
It’s not that I don’t believe HR provide value. It does. But only because line managers have so much to do, that doing people things right is often a nice to have rather than a must do. My issue is typically when something doesn’t go right, HR will default and say “we have a policy for that”. That’s not good enough. HR needs a slap across the face and a firm kicking.
My take on what should happen is to defer to people’s best judgement. Have a framework which makes sense for the business. Promote it. Help people understand it. Encourage and incentivise to make it happen. Give the pull factor. People should never need to be pushed. Provide clear and unmistakable guidance about when things are expected to happen. Have review periods and agree timelines. That’s all basic stuff which needs to happen.
If people don’t adhere to the framework then there’s a simple recompense. Discipline them. Allow people to make sensible, grown up decisions. If they fall foul of failing to meet a deadline, be it on their head with no doubt about the consequence of this.
To keep overheads in check, I do think you need to have an L&D function of sorts, recruitment, compensation and benefits and a legal department. But you don’t need someone saying – due to adverse weather here’s our company policy. Due to global recession, here’s our policy. Due to not completing your timesheet, here’s our policy. Due to being absent from work without permission, here’s our policy. Due to not answering your email on time, here’s our policy. Managers should have the training to help them understand how to deal with each and every one of those situations.
Ultimately HR are an information provider. This is how you complete an appraisal form. This is how you report sickness and absence. This is when you are eligible for further benefits. This is what you need to do to work here. This is how you report on your workforce. This is the number of staff we have in the building today.
But those damned policies are the bane of my life. We’re in an age now where the workforce is more savvy about working life. Policies help to give people an understanding of expectations from the business. But that’s where they should stay. The workforce is intelligent enough – and has information feely available enough – to make a sensible decision. If they choose to go against the norm or transgress the rules, there’s penalties to pay (no pun intended). You cannot empower a workforce by restricting them to act according to rules and processes and policies.