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Cold Hearted

In the middle of my career, I learned a valuable concept – people over program.  With all that companies work to legislate and provide policy around, it is unwise to forget the people in the midst of these pronouncements and procedures.  Is the goal the policy?  Think about that for a minute.  If it’s not, then why does so much time get spent on it?

I remember watching Sybil for the first time while a senior in high school.  The movie was exquisitely acted by Joanne Woodward and Sally Field (one of her best roles).  The multiple personalities that Sybil was tormented by stemmed primarily from a parent who held firm to a belief in process.  I know it was psychotic, but it was a procedure nonetheless.  And while that was extreme and gut-wrenching to watch, is it any less impactful than watching a man being dragged off a United plane because of policy?

At some point, we’ve raised the policy over the people.  It is one of the worst forms of business un-development that we employ.  Are our policies working for both our external and internal customers?  Do they cause more customers to walk through the door or reach out to us online? Do they push internal talent to greater skill development or collaborative learning? It is quite possible that the policies meant to protect companies are the very ones that will squash culture and productivity.  Restrictions for the sake of restrictions, without context, are constricting.

Policy is meant to enhance the employee experience.  In its primary role, it’s not punitive and it’s not authoritarian.  Think of them as bumpers on a bowling alley.  If you can learn to manage the proper throw while being protected from the gutters, it’s a more enjoyable learning experience.  The throw is practiced and perfected, and soon those bumpers aren’t needed because the way to act and to respond has been learned.  Even if the bumpers stay up, the bowler isn’t really looking at them and the toss of the ball won’t touch them either.

When we live for the policy, actions like the United flight incident occur.  We sit back and shake our heads as to how unbelievable and awful that incident was.  But can we not see how we subject people to policy in other awful ways?  The United flight incident is a valuable lesson for us to remember that we’re dealing with people, real people.

Being certain of a process is important.  Knowing why the policy has been put into place is vital.  Applying that policy consistently is necessary.  There is nothing here that I am offering to oppose those points.  What is being shared is that these considerations should not be implemented to the destruction and devastation of our people.  That devastation is often internal – creativity, innovation, commitment to the organization, collaboration.  An employee is less likely to invest himself/herself to a company if he/she cannot make an impact.  An impaired or unbalances commitment to policy will certainly make an employee sense that.

Listen, I have watched the United video countless times (thanks to ABC, CNN and every other news outlet), and I am overwhelmed with sadness.  I cannot believe that a paying customer would be treated in such a way.  Yet, I couldn’t help sense that we figuratively may treat our customers and employees that way in our blind enforcement of policy.  We may introduce a context to our staff that drags out their willingness to invest themselves into our companies; we’ve done that.

Human Resources is not meant to be a cold, mechanical implementer of policy.  It would be mindless for us to do so. We’re not mindless.  Look at what and why we have the policies and processes we do.  It’s time for a fresh consideration.

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