Look it up: HR policies and how they work

The point of having a policy is that you don't have to do all the work every time something comes up. You can look back at the way you decided to do it last time and do it that way. Not only that, everybody else can find out what the rules are and moderate their behaviour accordingly.

It makes particularly good sense to have human resources (HR) policies in place. They're complicated and require a lot of work to devise and to check, but you don't even have to do all the preliminary grind yourself. Our Community Institute of Community Directors (ICDA) has an online policy bank you can draw on. Here are some examples of policies you'll find in the HR section:

These documents include policies (broad principles that have to be approved by the board), and - because you want some flexibility for changed circumstances and developing experience - procedures, which cover the implementation of the policies and can be signed off by the CEO.

We're not recommending that you simply take these on board untouched - actually, we're telling you not to. You'll have to run an eye over them and adapt them to your own needs, and then you'll have to circulate them around the organisation to see if anybody has any better ideas. Only then should you have them approved by the board.

One thing you'll have to get right is the scale. Some of the policies in the policy bank refer to an HR department. If your organisation doesn't run to an HR department, you'll need to change the text to specify "HR Officer" or "responsible person".

Once you have a list of policies, you'll need to make sure that your people know what they are. There's no point having a sexual harassment policy, for example, unless employees have read it and noted the consequences of the behaviour. There's no point having a performance review policy unless people's performances are actually reviewed when they should be.

If you have a policy on managing unsatisfactory performance and don't follow it strictly it can be used against you, negating altogether your attempt to shed underperformers because you haven't followed your own rules.

Most of these policies are designed to stop things going wrong or to deal with the fallout if something does. If things go wrong they keep you safe, and if nothing actually does go wrong - well, you'll never know. Policies are like parachutes: most of the time you don't need them, but when you need them, you really need them.

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