Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When expertise becomes an enemy of quality service 13 – personnel policies as dynamic and at least ideally, coherently and consistently organized operational systems 1

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on August 21, 2016

This is my thirteenth installment to a series on expertise, and on what an employee or manager needs to bring along with it, if it is to offer real value and either to themselves or to the business they work for (see my supplemental postings section at the end of Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 69 and following, for Parts 1-12.)

• I began this series with a focus on workplace communications and related issues that can become sources of challenge in a workplace. And I at least briefly discussed how those sources of workplace friction can blunt the effectiveness of even the otherwise best employees – and even when they have exceptionally valuable hands-on and technical skills and actively seek to effectively use them in their work.
• Then I focused in Parts 8-12 of this series on personnel problem remediation, successively delving into a series of specific scenarios that can and do arise in a business and for Personnel staff and managers, that variously address the challenge of “helping good employees with potential to become great employees.”
• Then at the end of Part 12, and after addressing that series of specific personnel policy and process scenarios, I said that I would step back from the particulars of all of this “to consider personnel policies as dynamic and at least ideally, coherently and consistently organized operational systems.”

I added that as part of this higher-level discussion, I would consider gaps and inconsistencies in personnel policy and practice, how they can and do arise, and their impact and both on a service such as Human Resources itself and on the business as a whole. But before addressing personnel policy and practice from this higher level perspective, I have to at least briefly discuss the potential minefield that I have been leading all of this series into – with the capacity for policies in place and practices actually followed, to explode depending on how individual employees, and employee circumstances and scenarios are identified and acted upon. In anticipation of discussion to come, this is a place where documentation can be vitally important too – and not just for what goes into individual employee’s personnel records but in documenting how and why those decisions and actions were taken.

But I begin this here at the beginning and with a discussion of how and why Personnel policy and practice can create minefields, and how the simplest means for preventing that challenge can in fact turn out to be the worst way for Personnel to function for the business as a whole. What I am setting up here can be thought of as a classic catch-22 situation, or at least as a situation that holds a significant potential for creating one, to cite Joseph Heller’s term for what can become this type of fundamental conundrum.

What is the basic conundrum here? I will begin with that question:

• In many areas of the world and certainly in what are sometimes called the developed nations, and increasingly globally too, there are laws in place that both identify and define unlawful workplace discrimination, and explicitly impose penalties for its occurrence. And a key criterion that essentially always enters into this type of determination is that different employees and groups of them are treated as holding markedly different value or worth, where it might be argued that some are being discriminated against in this on the basis of criteria that have nothing to do with their workplace performance per se.
• The threat of being identified and challenged in court for workplace discrimination, creates pressures for businesses to develop and apply single one size fits all personnel decision making policies and practices that would be as uniformly and consistently applied as possible – always and under all circumstances.
• As a perhaps aside here, the possibility of workplace discrimination claims is also a significant reason as to why so many businesses and their Human Resources departments have traditionally treated precise salary ranges for specific job descriptions and work position types, as highly controlled confidential business intelligence. This is done to give the business more control in negotiating salary and compensation with new hires and with current employees too, and certainly when they might be up for promotion. But at least as importantly this is done to limit exposure where different same-job employees might find out that they are receiving very different salaries for what they do – and where they might raise questions or challenges as to why.
• Outside regulatory requirements, and I add a great many forces and factors that arise within a business in response to them, lead towards single approach uniformity – and a denial of any exception-handing alternatives. And ultimately, and certainly when this approach becomes the only one followed, that means Human Resources coming to be an active barrier to business flexibility and resiliency, and to competitive effectiveness – and certainly when this business operates in a fast-paced, rapidly evolving industry and where the competition can be significant for both bringing in and retaining the best employees with hard to match skills.
• This more rigid approach might work when employment is a buyer’s market and employers and potential employers are essentially fully in control. But it can and does fail in fully supporting a business when that enterprise operates in an employment seller’s market and the competitively best potential hires and current employees too – have other options and can always find acceptably different elsewhere.

Why do I refer to this as taking on something of the form of a catch-22 situation? In order to safeguard itself against legal liability risk here, a business has to institute and follow personnel policy approaches that in their “safest,” guaranteed fullest-compliance extreme make that business fragile and vulnerable, lowering its overall competitive abilities and its chances of remaining profitable and open. Here, safeguarding its immediate here and now, can at least as significantly bring challenge to its longer-term future. And this brings me to a fundamental question that I will at least begin to address in the next installment to this series:

• How can a business better reconcile a compelling need for consistency and uniformity in how it works with and treats its employees, with an often equally compelling need for flexibility in its personnel policy in addressing how it works with its individual employees – if it is to secure and retain the very best?

Think of the various issues and scenarios of the preceding twelve installments to this series as representing case in point examples of how and where a more personalized approach might be needed. How can a business, as a due diligence and even a risk limitation initiative, best determine flexibility here, without increasing risk of falling into what might be viewable as a somehow-discriminatory pattern in its intended flexibility? How can it find and functionally realize the right balance point here that both minimizes risk and maximizes benefits, at least relative to each other? (Note: in game theory terms, I am setting this up as a minimax problem.)

This is a series that focuses on worst and best employees and on helping all employees in a business to achieve their fullest potential there. And at the same time it is a series about finding and at least homeostatically reaching and maintaining that minimax balance point. I will at least begin to delve into the big picture implications of this goal and its realization in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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