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Jan 22, 2015

My husband calls them “blond moments” when he shows me a cartoon and I don’t get it.

I’m also a bit gullible when I read spoofs and satires. No, thank you – I don’t need oceanfront property in Arizona.

Today he sent an article from The Onion which I got right away. Yes, I know The Onion is a satirical publication; I learned that when I took him a story I thought was true, and he chuckled for about an hour.

I actually did a double take on the one he sent today – HR Director Reminds Employees That Any Crying Done At Office Must Be Work-Related. Oh my, I hope not. Oh, I get it – it’s a spoof! LOL.

Yes, HR did it

That got me thinking about HR teams who take on silly policy rules because someone in authority thinks they need one.

Think — dress code.

Truly, I have seen dress codes where skirt lengths are specified in inches, where the allowable size of the “peep” in the peep-toe shoes was defined, where a list of inappropriate t-shirt topics was provided, and where the number of earring holes had to be the same on both ears (female only, of course).

In each of those scenarios, some executive saw something he didn’t think was professional and, instead of dealing with it personally, he told HR to write a policy.

And HR did it.

Is this a matter of policy, or of leadership strength?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, doesn’t everything really boil down to leadership? If leaders had the skill and will to lead effectively, authentically, and honestly, we probably wouldn’t need policies. Heck, we probably wouldn’t need laws that protect the rights of employees because leadership would already be doing what the law says we must do.

Why would an otherwise talented and confident leader hand off an employee issue to HR?

I see a couple of possibilities.

  • First, laws, regulations and policies have strangled leaders, creating an environment of “If I do this or say this, I might get sued.” So they tell HR to handle it.
  • It could also be that the leader just doesn’t like having to correct, teach or otherwise deal with an employee who makes a faux pas. Many of us dislike confrontation, and if HR is willing to take the ball, we’ll eagerly throw it to them.

It’s time to toss the ball back to leadership

Instead of doing what is asked and writing a policy, push back and ask, “What do you hope to accomplish by writing a policy?

That’ll generally stop them in their tracks, but it will also open the dialogue to discuss:

  • a.) The issue;
  • b.) The severity of the issue in relation to the business; and,
  • c.) Better alternatives.

It has been my experience that those leaders who nitpick about issues that are not really consequential to the business will back down quickly when they realize that. On the contrary, if the issue does impact the business it may be an issue worth discussing at a leadership team meeting, and developing an approach that will actually work, not just a policy that will sit on the shelf (or the intranet).

Instead of HR confronting the employee about the faux pas, offer to coach the leader in how she can handle the situation. It might be helpful to remind her that, by abdicating her responsibility to HR, she diminishes her own credibility with the employee.

It’s probably not that simple

Here’s where it may get dicey: When tossed back to the leader, each leader may handle it differently, thereby causing angst in the employee population.

But writing a policy won’t help.

If something is sufficiently important for an organization to prescribe specific behavior, both leaders and employees need to know the why. Leaders need to understand their role in motivating appropriate behavior, and addressing inappropriate behavior.

This is an opportunity for leadership development.

What is HR’s role in this?

It is a very strategic role. HR is the conscience of the organization, helping leadership understand human behavior, the consequences of that behavior, and developing the right approach to facilitating behavioral change.

It isn’t to write a policy.

That’s my thought, anyway. I would love to hear yours.

This originally appeared on the ….@ the intersection of learning & performance blog.