Your policies are sending a message about your culture – listen up!

Let’s start at the beginning – what do we even mean by the term ‘Culture’? Well, you know us, we only do HR without the blah blah blah, so we like to refer to culture as ‘the way we do things around here’. Simple, hey?

Except, it’s not.

To create the kind of company culture you aspire to takes hard work – and a lot of belief and conviction. It’s not something that can be made in isolation – to get genuine buy-in and engagement, you HAVE to involve your people. After all, that which is co-created is ultimately co-owned. It’s also not a ‘once and done’, tick box activity – it’s something you will need to pay deliberate attention to and revisit time and time again. One thing’s for sure – if you don’t pay attention to the kind of company culture you want, you’ll get one anyway. And it may not be the one you want! You also might not have considered the importance of your company policies and procedures in relation to the culture you have, or the culture you want. Do your policies match your company culture?

Whether you realise it or not, your policies, procedures and general people approach will be sending a powerful message about your organisation and what it stands for. Let me share a couple of examples to bring this to life for you . . .

How do your People Policies stack up?

Do you choose to give statutory benefits – or do you look to enhance your offer wherever possible, because you have taken the time to recognise what matters to your people?

Built on trust

Ask yourself this: do your policies come from a place of trust, or are they designed to mitigate the risk that someone might mess up one day? Let’s be clear – a policy will not cover you against every eventuality, so it’s better to deal with things on a case-by-case basis, rather than run the risk of disengaging all of your employees by sounding like you don’t trust them from the outset.

Trust is a concept some leaders need to wrestle with. Why is it, for example, having invested heavily in attracting the right person, do we tend to then put an employee on a lengthy probation period? What kind of statement are we making? And when the productivity benefits of flexible working are there for all to see, why are some organisations still anxious about what is happening when people aren’t doing all of their work in the office, for example? Of course, there will always be performance conversations to have – and times when an employee just isn’t doing what they need to do. As leaders we need to be able to face this and deal with it openly and honestly – but how refreshing would it be to measure performance on output alone, rather than the hours someone puts in – and in what location they put said hours in?!

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Let’s take another old favourite, the annual appraisal (I can hear the groans from here!) The stats suggest that, at best, these are ineffective. In her book, ‘HR Disrupted’, Lucy Adams references the fact that 92% of companies still have an annual appraisal, yet only 8% believe they are worth the time and effort. So why do we continue to plug away at something which we know is probably no longer fit for purpose? Is it because we don’t know how to do anything else? Are we afraid of a loss of ‘control’? What we are not saying is that performance conversations shouldn’t happen – of course they should! How you approach these conversations though, really is worth some thought. Are they generating the outputs you need them to? How could you simplify the actual process so that you are spending more time on the quality of conversation? For example, could you simply ask your employees about their biggest success of the month – and their biggest opportunity? This allows them to recognise what’s gone well (so they can build on and replicate) but also what may require focus.

Lucy Adams also highlights Netflix’s expense policy. It simply states: ‘Act in Netflix’s best interests’. That’s it! What else could you ever need to say!? No doubt about it, it’s hugely trusting. And that’s the point. Autonomy is empowering.

Your organisation might be a way away from this, but what could you do to give the message that you trust your employees and their judgements – the same people that you spent time, money and effort recruiting because you saw potential worth investing in? To get the best out of your people, you need to create cultures where they feel valued, engaged and motivated. Trust creates high-performing cultures.

Structure has a place

We do know that structure has a place though. Recently, many organisations have chosen to give their employees unlimited holiday, for example. What a great way to attract great employees to your organisation and engage existing people! This has often failed to achieve its intended outcome, however, as employees tend to feel too concerned about leaving their colleagues to pick up the slack – and also don’t know how much is too much – will they be seen as exploiting the organisation’s generosity? so much so that they end up taking less holiday than they would have been allocated in the first place! So we recommend your policies have some structure and clarity of expectation.

A thought for the day to leave you with: Is your current approach in terms of your people policies and practices feeding or stifling ownership and creativity?

If it’s time to refresh your people policies, take a look at our Brilliant Basics packages of custom HR documentation for your business.