The Structured Dilemma

25 Sep

“I don’t think I’m getting an increment this year”, my friend exclaimed. 

Given the recent price rise, this was a great cause of concern.

“That’s terrible”, I said. “Why not?!”

And she went on to explain that since she shifted her department mid-way during the year, her current department’s Human Resources (HR) manager is shoving a “one-year” policy in her face.

I’m sure at this point you must be wondering the same thing that I was when I first heard it – what on earth?! What difference does it make to the company so long as she is still with them, right? Why is this company not acknowledging the fact that the employee is still with them? After all, if she quits tomorrow (and more often than not, most of them do), she will get this increment from someone else anyhow! Why not give it to her and keep her happy and motivated?

It’s strange to see how some of the controls that an organization places around itself end up choking it to death. And I wonder how such companies expect to even retain talent (forget about nurturing and growing it), especially in this age of increased factor mobility – in our case the labour.

I’ve seen numerous such instances this year. This year was the first time my business-school batch mates were all put through reviews in their respective firms and the reactions were the same. Some have lost out on ratings and some are being denied promotions/increments. In almost every case, the HR comes back with unquestionable “policy” logic.

When I studied HR back in my business-school, I was told that the biggest compliant employees have with the HR folks is that somewhere down the line they end up becoming “policy-enforcers”, more so than anything else. And now I see why.

At some point, organizations need to check if their current policies are stifling their own cause and choking their own people. And HR has the biggest role to play in this, as they are the first ones to read the warning signs.

It’s not like all the companies are living in the Stone Age. Many organizations have understood that the rules of the game are now changing. In this Twitter-era, a frustrated employee can reach millions in a fraction of a second and the negative word can travel wide. Take the example of Infosys, which now has to regulate its internal discussion boards (or at times external blogs). Or even this Ambulance company in Connecticut that had to change its Social Media policy, allowing a frustrated employee to vent his feelings about work on the internet (

Yet, there are still countless organizations that forget to gauge just how sensitive topics like employee motivation/satisfaction are. And now with their voices being heard far and wide, it is becoming just too risky to ignore employees when they first walk up to you with a problem.

I’m not saying that this does not pose a unique challenge to today’s HR – it so does. It is now more than ever that they have to put their Green Hats on and deal with each case individually. No longer can they follow a ‘one-model-fits-all’ approach and get away by shoving a policy in the employee’s face.

Policies should now be more like guidelines – they must change from gridlines on a PowerPoint presentation to being more like page borders on a Word document, giving you structure to hold the content in place, but not defining where the content goes and/or what it should be.

There will be places where “conformity” is needed, but organizations have to start becoming comfortable with grey areas (like “ethics”, for example) and rather than oppose it, train their HR and managers to thrive in it.

The bottom-line is organizations that now fail to make their controls and policies flexible enough shall lose out on people. And it will be just too clichéd for me to add here that no organization strategy can be achieved without a bundle of committed and focused talent set sitting along-side your cash reserves.

We live in a world of choices now and believe you me, it is applicable to YOUR talent too. Don’t make them think twice about being with you. Make them choose to be with you.

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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Business, Corporate, Talent Strategy


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