Bending the HR Rules

Sometimes in HR, it feels like we are stretching within a rubber band (that is really large) or a slingshot and then bouncing wherever we may land. Either one gives you the same visual.

Human resources pros are really good at asking questions. Whenever someone comes to HR with a question, a scenario, a challenge or an opportunity, we ask questions. And while most of us are well-intentioned, the questions usually lead to “no” or “only if we allow everyone to-¦” or something similar.

Why is this?

Because the wrong questions are asked. Which really is a symptom of the problem. And what I mean by this is that the wrong questions get asked because the overall thought process behind the questions is skewed. It’s skewed to be focused on the legal ramifications. This is important, but should not be the only consideration. HR people need to protect companies but in a way that allows us to manage our Contributing Team Members (CTMs) effectively.

As I write this I recognize how important it is to recognize that different organizations with specific cultures and sizes need to be managed in a sustainable way that works for them. So, know your culture well, but also know your people well.

What are the “right” questions? They are the ones that focus on-¦how can we make this work? For example, one of our CTMs requested a leave of absence for a personal adventure over the course of a month. We figured out a way to make this work for him and the company (allowing him to be paid through the whole leave). And while it may not work for everyone else here, we weren’t focused on that. We were focused on how we could make it work for this specific situation. We still set up expectations and outlined them formally for both the CTM and the company. So, if any issues arose, we’ve got it covered.

And other opportunities prevail to think this way. Even simple things like dress codes and how employees work can be stretched a bit. And policies can be bent if there is a good business reason and we can justify it. Again, we need to be considerate of consistent behavior and expectations, but if we can and need to, we adjust.

Employees are people and therefore they will never stop asking for more. As employers, don’t we do the same? Hopefully, we celebrate the successes and take time to evaluate our progress. But, we then move on to the next goal, demanding more from our CTMs.

Here are a couple of questions to add to your thought process when a challenge/opportunity/request presents itself:

  1. What is the real need?

  2. Why is it a need?

  3. Is it a priority for the company to meet the need?

  4. How can we make the need work for the company and the CTM?

  5. What is stopping us from meeting this need?

  6. How can we overcome our concerns from #5?

Bend, don’t break and you will be amazed at the results!

Ellen Winterburn is director of Human Resources at Mindscape at Hanon McKendry, a Web marketing and development firm. Mindscape is a 2011 winner of West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For. She can be reached at [email protected].