Experts: Organize Policies to Solve Problems

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR Feb 10, 2012
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When confronted with a question such as “Can my employee take medical leave to have surgery?,” managers often find they have either too little or too much information. This can make people management decisions challenging and can impact productivity as well, experts say.

Speaking during a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) webcast held Jan. 24, 2012, Theresa L. Harvey of Dickstein Shapiro LLC and Gary J. Dickelman, CEO of EPSScentral LLC, said the goal is for policies and related information to be easily accessible, current and organized in a format that guides decision-making.

During the webcast titled “Taming the HR Policy-Process-Knowledge Documentation Beast,” Harvey said that even a fairly routine employee question can lead a manager—or an HR professional—to spend considerable time searching through policies, reviewing regulations and making phone calls before being able to give the employee a definitive answer.

But there’s a bigger risk, she noted. For example, a manager who is unsure whether an employee is eligible for medical leave might err on the side of generosity, which can lead to increased labor costs, or might deny a request in error, which can have legal consequences.

A Better Way

In addition to minimizing risks and costs, the reorganization of policy-related information can reduce the amount of time managers spend on “administrivia,” meetings and other things that do not add value, Dickelman said, while increasing the amount of time available for “real work.”

In addition, managers often gain time to be proactive and reflect on issues before acting rather than responding to them on the spur of the moment.

Employers should focus on arranging information “in small snippets … so people can find exactly what they need when they need it,” Harvey explained. This means that managers should have access to policy language as well as links to extra information that addresses specific issues.

In other words, information needs to be accessible as well as actionable, she explained: “What does the manager need to do once they know the answer to the question? What’s the next step?”

Another benefit to making information available in a consolidated, easily accessible format, according to Harvey, is that it can help managers identify other issues that might impact an employee, such as how one leave policy interacts with another.

But leave issues are just one example of the types of questions managers and HR professionals wrestle with, Dickelman noted. Pay classifications, termination pay, benefits eligibility and other issues often arise, though the answers vary depending on the laws an organization is subject to as well as its policies and practices.

“There is a lot of information, and clearly there is some density and complexity in the law itself,” Dickelman noted. “What we can’t excuse is having complexity in the tool that you use to get your information.”

With a comprehensive, people-friendly arrangement of information, managers can:

  • Find the processes and documents they need when they need them.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Have confidence that what they have is compliant and up-to-date.

The solution, he said, is simple: Make sure information is accessible, actionable and current.

One way to begin an information reorganization process such as this, according to Dickelman, is to come up with a typical question a manager will need to answer and look for the answer. If it takes more than a few minutes to find the information and answer the question, this might be an indicator that the organization should reorganize its policies and related resources.

He noted that the organization of policies and related information is not a technological issue but a human one. “We cannot solve these problems as if they are IT problems. … You cannot put an IT solution in place when an HR solution is necessary.”

Thus, Dickelman said, it’s important to design systems so that the information is centralized and arranged in a way that people can access easily to find answers, even if this means “throwing stuff out that doesn’t work and keeping the stuff that’s left behind,” he noted.

“If technology does not serve the person who does the work, it will fail or be subverted,” Dickelman observed.

His advice: “Keep it simple. Use tools that nonprogrammers can use.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. She can be reached via SHRM Connect.

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