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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Pollard

Are rules hindering us to learn and grow?

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

As our children grow up, we give them boundaries – parameters to operate within. We encourage them to “try” activities, food and experiences. They all make mistakes along the way and we are there to encourage them to “try” again – learn from their mistakes.

However, once we are in the workforce, we often find that we are required to follow “rules” (aka policies), and if we break the “rules” we find ourselves having to answer to a higher authority – “told off”.

Let’s think about this for a moment. We encourage children to grow and learn – take a risk, and then take this opportunity away when we reach the workforce as an adult! It does not make sense.

Many organisational values encompass words such as “growth and learning”, “trust”, “empower”, “lead” – the list goes on. However, if you delve a little further you will find numerous prescriptive policies and processes. Is this in-congruent with the espoused organisational values?

One organisation that I worked with had 26 dedicated HR related policies and this figure did not including injury management or work health safety policies. I delved further into the content of the policies and found that they were very prescriptive. When I asked the senior leadership team why they needed so many HR policies, the response I received was that it was important that the leaders and staff had “rules” to follow – to reduce the risk to the organisation.

My first thought was wow, followed by the second thought which was, what was the culture like? A review of the staff surveys indicated that the culture needed some work in areas of trust and valuing staff – I wasn't surprised. I was also aware that many of the middle leadership group were afraid to go outside of the rules, fearing “punishment”!

When one looks at the definition of culture, it is described as “the way we do things around here”. By having so many prescriptive policies it restricts the growth of an organisation’s culture, resulting in a risk averse culture. No one grows in this type of environment. If a leader needs to have prescriptive “rules” to assist them to make decisions, then one questions whether they are the right person for the role.

The role of a leader is to inspire and enable their staff – not “rule” them. It is important to be clear that leaders still need to hold staff accountable for achieving outcomes.

Should there be HR policies in place – absolutely, however my view is that the policies should be broad guidelines that are aligned with the direction and values of the organisation, and that allows the respective leader to make the best decisions for his/her team. If an organisation needs to put in place such prescriptive rules for leader to administer, then one must ask whether the organisation has the right leaders in place.

Let’s reduce the number of HR policies to those legislatively required and then provide a broad outline of expectations and allow the leaders to lead and make decisions.

Trust is an outcome and that can be achieved through empowering leaders to lead and encouraging staff to learn from their mistakes.

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