Because policies are only guidelines not a rulebook


Human resource professionals help create, interpret and apply policies. Somewhere between then and now, we swallowed the word ‘interpret’ and stuck to the other two. How many times have you denied something just because the policy did not allow it or you didn’t want to set a precedence? ‘Setting a precedence’ is a rather lousy reason for saying ‘No’. On the few occasions that you have wanted to go outside of the policy, it is probable that you were plagued by a series of approvals.

As organizations grow larger, it strangely becomes even more favorable to stick to the written word. Small organizations seem to retain flexibility whereas larger organizations slowly lose theirs. This is quite contrary to how it should be. As organizations grow larger and more diverse, there will be a larger number of deviations and weird situations. What your policy does is account for 99% of all cases. For the rest, they’ve employed YOU. You haven’t been employed to follow the policies laid down but to make high value judgement calls. Don’t make the wrong ones. Yes, the process may hinder you but then you can always change the process, can’t you?

Remember that a policy is only a ‘definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives in light of given conditions to guide present and future decisions’. It isn’t the right solution under all situations. There is of course a natural impulse to try to follow the guidelines to ensure the right thing happens. It is our job to break that impulse, embrace ambiguity, use judgement and do the right thing when the time comes.

I can only pray that I never hear an HR professional say – The policy doesn’t allow it. Come up with a better reason.


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